Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Brief Synopsis of Recent Literature on U.S. Students Abroad

It has been some time since I have had a guest blogger here at IHEC Blog and I’m pleased to publish this post by my colleague Emily Gorlewski, Assistant Director in the Office of Study Abroad, Center for International Studies at Western Illinois University. In this post, Emily provides a brief synopsis of three recent articles on U.S. study abroad:

Salisbury, M.H., Paulsen, M.B., and Pascarella, E.T. (2010) To see the world or stay at home; Applying an integrated student choice model to explore the gender gap in the intent to study abroad. Research in Higher Education (in press, retrieved March 9, 2010 from

Salisbury, M.H., Umbach, P.D., Paulsen, M.B., and Pascarella, E.T. (2009) Going global: Understanding the choice process of the intent to study abroad. Research in Higher Education 50, 119-143.

Stroud, A. (2010). Who plans (not) to study abroad? An examination of U.S. student intent. Journal of Studies in International Education, 1-18. Doi 10.1177/1028315309357942

As a study abroad professional with big ambitions to increase participation at my university, I am thrilled to see quite a number of new research articles about what influences students to study abroad or not. When I worked as a study abroad adviser and was also a graduate student, this was my primary interest. I wanted to know why our students weren’t going abroad. Were they too poor? Didn’t they know about study abroad? Were they just not interested? The literature at that time (Spring 2006) was not as extensive as it is today, thanks to these new resources.

These studies support some previous research findings and commonly-held beliefs about study abroad while challenging others. For a practitioner like me, they point out the similarities in factors influencing students to study abroad, while also highlighting areas in which more research is needed in each particular institution. This research is a huge contribution to understanding participation in study abroad.

April Stroud’s (2010) sample was from one institution, University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Stroud found that female students were more likely to intend to study abroad than male students, which is in line with the Open Doors statistics on students who do go abroad. She also found that students who attended college farther away from home were more likely to intend to study abroad, as were students who indicated a strong interest in learning about other cultures. She found that students who lived at home while attending school and those in engineering or professional majors were less likely to intend to study abroad, while parents’ income level and education level did not appear to be related to intent to study abroad.

Salisbury, Umbach, Paulsen and Pascarella (2009) and Salisbury, Paulsen and Pascarella (2010) had a sample drawn from 19 different institutions. Because of the diversity of this sample compared to Stroud’s or that of any single institution trying to study its own students, it is possible that some would consider the results more generalizable to the US undergraduate population as a whole. However, as the researchers point out, the institutions sampled represented a disproportionate number of liberal-arts colleges. In the 2009 study, women were found to be more likely than men to intend to study abroad. This finding is studied in more detail in the 2010 article. The data on racial background and majors was interesting; the authors suggest that the fact that certain student groups are underrepresented is not due to a lack of desire or intent to study abroad. The 2010 analysis focuses on gender, finding relationships among this factor plus, race, income, parents’ education levels and other variables. There’s too much fascinating information to summarize here; you will have to read the article!

All of these articles are full of implications for further research, and they are just a sample of the research that has appeared recently on this topic. As the field continues to grow, I hope that the momentum in this area can be maintained, and more answers can be found for those of us who are asking why more students don’t take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad. It’s important for each of us to remember, however, that each institution has its own unique student population, and in order to serve that population’s needs, we need to look inward and focus on what drives our own students.

Photo credit:  austinevan

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