Findings and Recommendations
As other nations emerge as economic powers and our society grows more international, so, too, must a student’s education. There is so much to be learned from observing, from interacting, and from listening to people who live and work in different cultures than ours. Two years ago, a bipartisan congressional commission called for 1 million American students to be studying abroad by 2017. The year 2017 has special significance on our campus because it is our bicentennial, and I want the University to be a leader in reaching this study abroad goal. At least 1,800 University of Michigan students take advantage of study abroad programs annually, and I want us to double that number in the next five years. I am intentionally setting the bar high because I believe this is critical to preparing tomorrow’s students for a more culturally diverse and more cooperative world. We must find ways to make the international study experience more flexible, creative, and affordable. Our future and the future of our nation depend on it.
President Mary Sue Coleman, Five Years Forward: An Address to the University of Michigan Community; November 15, 2007.
According to the University’s 2007 First Year Student Survey, 38% of incoming freshmen indicated that they planned to study abroad at some point during their undergraduate careers. This reflects about a 20% increase in just four years, and this trend shows no sign of declining. To meet the growing demand, it is essential for the University to lower, if not remove, barriers that interfere with students achieving their goal of participating in high quality and affordable overseas learning programs.
One major barrier is lack of easy access to comprehensive information about overseas programs and related financial support. Currently, students must visit a number of offices in various locations on campus to collect information and to get answers to their questions. With today’s technology, the University could eliminate this barrier quite easily by investing in software that effectively houses, organizes, and makes readily available all education abroad information in one interactive web environment. Such a resource would put students in contact electronically with education abroad advisors; enable them to apply for programs online; and provide necessary information about passports, visas, living expenses, travel arrangements, health insurance, safety issues, credit transfer procedures, and pre-departure as well as re-entry programs. Examples of such web portals elsewhere are Duke University, the University of Minnesota, and many others.
The University should increase the number of students having an education abroad experience. Toward this end, the University should develop activities that increase students’ interest in having such experiences and should identify and remove any factors that discourage students from going abroad. As part of this effort, the University should also increase the range, type, and location of the education abroad opportunities it offers. These education abroad experiences are likely to be most beneficial if they have strong connections to the students’ coursework and if they are available early in the student experience.
Questions for Reflection
- Should there be a campus-wide education abroad office? If so, what concerns related to education abroad should be administered centrally and assigned to this office? Alternatively, what matters related to education abroad are best dealt with at the level of the schools, colleges, and other academic units?
- What is the appropriate balance of centralization and decentralization in the development and administration of education abroad programs?
- Develop and expand short-term education abroad opportunities for first-year and second-year students to increase their interest in including a fuller overseas experience in their programs of study at the University. This would help students to think about and plan for an education abroad experience early in their academic careers. It would also encourage them to think about international aspects of their chosen field of study and to consider taking more courses with international content.
- Expand and diversify the range, location, and type of education abroad opportunities for students. This includes developing more opportunities to study abroad in non-traditional settings and creating programs that appeal to students with a broad range of disciplinary, professional, and area interests. The Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates (GIEU) program, and the International Internships and Service Learning Programs and Experiential Learning Fund of the International Institute are examples of innovations that expand the range of education abroad opportunities.
- Encourage undergraduate students to participate in education abroad programs that maximize their interaction with educators from other countries, including, but not limited to, attending an overseas university and taking classes with the instructors and students of that university. Education abroad experiences that include significant and regular interaction with classmates and professors from another country would also increase the likelihood of continuing international relationships.
- Promote undergraduate student participation in education abroad programs that involve the use of a foreign language in ways that help them to achieve foreign language proficiency. Toward this end, the University should expand on-campus activities that motivate students to enroll in overseas programs in non- English speaking areas, and that help to prepare them. Adequate language preparation makes students’ education abroad experiences more satisfying, expands and deepens their opportunities for learning while overseas, and allows them to more fully realize the benefits of an education abroad experience.
- Encourage individual academic units to play an active role in helping to establish, administer, and sustain education abroad programs. This would expand and diversify education abroad opportunities by encouraging programmatic innovation and the development of education abroad opportunities that meet particular and specialized needs. Equally important, it would motivate faculty members and departments to become more involved in the education abroad experiences of their students. To increase and diversify partnerships with overseas institutions could also strengthen the interest and involvement of departments in the overseas study and research of their students.
- Create greater faculty involvement in building interest among and advising students with respect to education abroad experiences. This should include helping students to think about the relevance of education abroad for their programs of study and advising students on matters of curriculum and research while they are abroad and after they return. Not only would this provide a more seamless transition between on-campus and overseas study, it would also help students to make decisions about the opportunities they will find overseas and about ways to incorporate what they have learned into their studies after they return to campus.
- Offer one or more “virtual education abroad” semesters that, in a given semester, would involve offering an integrated suite of classes with a common international thematic or regional focus, some or even all of which would include the use of a foreign language. Completion of a virtual education abroad semester might be noted on the student’s transcript.
- Establish a system of pre-approval for the courses that students take as part of their education abroad programs. Ensuring that students receive appropriate and anticipated credit upon the completion of an education abroad program, and that study abroad does not lengthen time-to-degree, would increase the number of students seeking a study abroad experience and would greatly improve students’ ability to incorporate an education abroad experience into their academic plans.
- Develop an institutional platform for international project-based learning, in which students explore realworld, community-based problems in small collaborative groups. This would require a coordinating entity that manages partnerships, ensures continuity, evaluates success, and offers logistical and financial support.
- Make financial support for students to participate in overseas programs one of the University’s priorities. Students consistently indicate that cost is the biggest barrier to their participation in an education abroad program. Eliminating or lowering this barrier would dramatically increase student participation in this increasingly necessary educational opportunity. To lower this barrier, the University should examine alternate tuition models, contain the cost of current programs, create new low cost programs, and raise and allocate funds to support every student who wants to participate in a University international program and who demonstrates financial need. The University should also look for ways to remove the financial disincentives for out-of-state students who are interested in study abroad to enroll in University sponsored programs, as such disincentives often lead them to enroll in programs at other universities instead.
- Improve the preparation of students for participating in education abroad programs, which would include standardizing pre-departure orientations and risk-management procedures. The University should ensure that students are fully and appropriately informed about all relevant concerns pertaining to their education abroad experience. Both online- and classroom-based orientation sessions should be available.