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New initiatives aim to close ‘study abroad gap’

Last school year, 7.6 percent of students who studied abroad were Hispanic, 7.3 percent were Asian and only 5.3 percent were black
University Business, January 2016
Kinesiology students from Cal State, Fullerton traveled to Greece for a summer study trip focused on philosophy and the Olympics. Student Justin Carrido snapped this group selfie at the Acropolis.
Kinesiology students from Cal State, Fullerton traveled to Greece for a summer study trip focused on philosophy and the Olympics. Student Justin Carrido snapped this group selfie at the Acropolis.

White students accounted for three-quarters of the nearly 300,000 students who studied abroad last school year. But a group of minority-serving colleges and universities is striving to alter that statistic.

One of those institutions, California State University, Fullerton, has already launched a program of short-term study abroad and “study away” experiences for low-income and first-generation students.

Participants have spent six weeks in Mexico studying art and immigration, while another group of students remained in the Southern California region to immerse itself in the Vietnamese community of Little Saigon, says President Mildred Garcia. “We’re making sure these underrepresented students know about the world and understand cultures different than their own.”

Last school year, just 7.6 percent of students who studied abroad were Hispanic, 7.3 percent were Asian and only 5.3 percent were black, according to the Council on International Educational Exchange.

The organization has partnered with The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania to gather presidents of minority-serving colleges and universities to develop new study-abroad models in the interests of student success.

Study abroad model-builders

Universities collaborating through the The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions and the Council on International Educational Exchange

  • California State University, Fullerton
  • California State University, Fresno
  • Florida A&M University
  • Grambling State University (La.)
  • Howard University (D.C.)
  • Metropolitan College of New York
  • Morgan State University (Md.)
  • Paul Quinn College (Texas)
  • Prairie View A&M University (Texas)

Along with Garcia, the presidents of nine other institutions met recently in Berlin, Germany, to share their ideas.

Officials at Claflin University in South Carolina have signed exchange program agreements with universities in Brazil, China, India, Japan, Kenya, Mexico and Taiwan. This makes it easier for students to use financial aid to pay for overseas study experiences that may last from a few weeks to a year, President Henry N. Tisdale says.

Students can also travel with faculty members engaged in research projects. Faculty funded under one of Claflin’s programs are required to take two students abroad with them. Five years ago, only 12 Claflin students studied abroad. That number has reached 50 and should continue to grow by about 15 percent per year, Tisdale says.

“A major focus on our campus is student success,” he says. “Getting students engaged in thinking globally creates students who are going to become much better at critical thinking, who are going to find more purpose to remain in school and who are going to be in more optimum positions entering graduate school or the job market.”

Colleges can eliminate one of the biggest study abroad hurdles by helping students obtain passports during first-year orientation, says Maritheresa Frain, executive vice president of study at the Council on International Educational Exchange.

Along with giving out $7 million in study abroad scholarships, the organization helped 1,000 students secure free passports in 2015. It plans to provide a total of 10,000 passports by 2020, Frain says.

The organization will continue to develop new models that are less expensive than the traditional semester or year abroad. For instance, colleges could band together to fund foreign trips or break semesters into six-week blocks that students could spend in different locations.

“We’re thinking about how the traditional study abroad model has to adapt to the challenges of cost, culture and curriculum,” says Frain.

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