I recently returned from a quick trip to Paris and Florence, where I studied, of all things, college students studying abroad.
According to the Institute of International Education, more than 300,000 U.S. domestic students – 10 percent – do a semester or year abroad, a 5 percent increase from 2014-2015 and double the number of students in 1989. A smaller, albeit rising, number of students, 46,500, are pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree abroad. Nearly 1 million students come to the U.S. to study abroad, with a vast majority pursuing full degrees.
But make no mistake, small numbers have a large impact abroad. A study on North American study abroad programs in Italy estimated that more than 19,000 students studied for a semester or more in 2012, accounting for 544 million euros in added value to the Italian economy, including academic programs, student spending and family visitor spending.
Research on study abroad programs shows increased post-travel benefits accruing to returning students, including higher grades, higher rates of post-graduate employment and higher starting salaries.
Not all study abroad programs are the same, and understanding the differences allows for the best academic and life experiences.
• Home university abroad. A growing trend is for U.S. universities to open a branch abroad, providing professors and a soft landing space for students. The main features of such programs include aligning to the home university curriculum and mirroring the academic calendar. In Florence, Italy, for example, there are nearly 50 U.S. colleges with home university abroad offerings and more than 148 in all of Italy.
• Direct or bilateral exchange. This is a one-for-one swap, with students exchanging between their home university and an international university, with specific agreements.
• Pooled exchange. These are universities that have joined a third-party consortium that manages international exchanges. Each U.S. university lists which consortium it belongs to.
• Direct enrollment. Students may opt to enroll directly in a study abroad program. By doing so, they must withdraw from their home universities. The burden of academic credit approval lies with the student. All payments to the program are made directly, and usually financial aid does not transfer. On return to the U.S., the student must seek readmission to his or her home university.
• Quick trip. These trips are usually short – between terms or during breaks – and taught by university professors on a specific topic. Such programs are usually available at an additional cost, and students may not earn academic credit.
All of the programs offer classes taught in English or immersion in the native language and will have approved curriculum classes. All except for direct enrollment allow students to apply their financial aid, keeping the base cost similar to that of studying at the home university. One common element in all of the study abroad programs: Usually international students are segregated from the resident university population, making meaningful interaction with local residents difficult within the academic setting.
My next column will review tips and tools for optimizing the international experience.