Study Abroad: Perspectives from Historically Underrepresented Student Populations
Over the past few decades, colleges and universities within the US have welcomed a more diverse student population than in years past. To support all students as they progress through postsecondary education, faculty and staff are constantly looking for high-impact best practices. One strategy that has been found to be an effective retention practice within higher education is a study abroad experience. Unfortunately, not all student groups access study abroad opportunities at the same rates. Students from traditionally underrepresented racial/ethnic groups (i.e., Black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaskan Native) are much less likely to participate in study abroad compared to White and Asian students. To help college and university personnel develop study abroad opportunities that are appealing to racially/ethnically diverse students this blog outlines the findings from a qualitative investigation of a study abroad program designed specifically for this student population (Ecker-Lyster & Kardash, 2022.
1. Reduce the Financial Burden
The number one reason many students feel study abroad is not for them is because of the cost. A critical first step in the study abroad process is making sure you have a valid US passport to enter a foreign country. This can cost students upwards of $200 if they have never held a passport before, and that is just the financial cost of securing the passport. This doesn’t even consider the time it might take a student to navigate the passport application process. It is worth offering a scholarship and/or stipend that covers the cost of securing a passport paired with a workshop on how to complete the application.
There of course are upfront costs of paying for travel arrangements to get to the study abroad destination (e.g., flight, transportation, housing, etc.) couple that with the cost of tuition this experience quickly becomes out of reach for many students. Work with your endowment office to establish a scholarship program specifically for study abroad opportunities for historically unrepresented populations.
Study abroad developers also need to consider the opportunity cost that go along with participating in a study abroad experience. For example, students who decide to study abroad for a semester or even a year often forgo the opportunity to hold a part-time job. This opportunity cost can be just as limiting as the upfront cost to go on the trip in the first place. This leads us to the second recommendation, create a short-term opportunity.
2. Consider Short-term Opportunities
To further reduce both the tangible cost and opportunity cost of the study abroad experience you might consider implementing a short-term experience. Rather than only offering a semester or yearlong experience, you might consider offering the trip during the summer term or even a brief 2-week trip before the summer term begins. The reduction in time will reduce the length needed for housing, which is often a significant cost associated with study abroad. Additionally, short-term programs might allow students to maintain employment before and after the experience. It is much more reasonable for employers to provide time off for a student to participate in a 2- to 4-week trip abroad compared to an entire semester. This not only helps students maintain stable employment, but also does not create a lengthy period where they are not working and earning an income.
3. Create a Community Before Sending Students Abroad
As previously noted, most students who currently participate in study abroad programs are White and Asian students. This means that programs need to consider how they are going to build community that is welcoming to all students. To accomplish this goal, you might consider designing your study abroad experience with a workshop or even a course the semester leading up to the trip. Providing students an opportunity to get to know one another while they are on campus can help ease fears about going into this experience especially if they are first time international travels. This approach also provides an opportunity to build a sense of community.
If you are interested in learning more about the findings highlighted throughout this blog, check out the following article:
Ecker-Lyster, M., & Kardash, N. (2022). Study abroad: Perspectives from historically underrepresented student populations. Journal of College Access, 7(1), Article 8. Available at: https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/jca/vol7/iss1/8