Study-Abroad Participation Still Growing

November 16, 2009 — The University of Virginia ranks ninth among its peer institutions in short-term study-abroad participation, outpacing much larger schools such as the University of Michigan and Penn State, according to the annual Open Doors report published today by the Institute of International Education.

U.Va. sent 1,255 students abroad in the 2007-08 year for two- to eight-week stints, such as January Term and summer programs. That's a slight decrease from last year's 1,332, which may be explained by an increase in semester-long participation and how the report counts participants, said Marina Markot, associate director for education abroad programs.

"The total numbers of U.Va. undergraduates who studied abroad rose from 1,418 to 1,465 in 2007-2008, compared to the previous year," she said. "However, our total includes international students, whereas the Open Doors number includes only American students. We at U.Va. make no distinction, and we encourage our Chinese students to study in Morocco or Russian students to study in England."

Nationwide, short-term programs are the way most students study abroad.

"My experience has been that short-term or long-term experience is not the defining characteristic," said Gowher Rizvi, vice provost for international programs. "Different programs have different needs. At many universities, including U.Va., it is often difficult for students to find a full semester to go abroad."

A total of 1,846 U.Va. students studied abroad in short- and long-term programs during 2007-08, compared to 1,807 the previous year, a 2 percent increase. Open Doors ranks U.Va. 19th among all doctoral institutions in the number of students who opt for international study. That's a slip from last year's 14th place as other institutions pulled ahead of U.Va.

"We appear to have reached a plateau," Markot said. "The next growth spurt could come from developing programs in specific disciplinary areas, integrated into the curriculum, that allow more students to spend one of their semesters abroad without missing a beat on their way to graduation."

She added that many other institutions are just now catching up to U.Va. in participation. "We've been sending students to diverse destinations for years. In 2007-2008, study-abroad programs took our students to 65 different countries," she said. "We are also doing consistently better than the national average in study abroad with minority participation, particularly with African Americans."

Overall, Open Doors 2009 reports the number of Americans studying abroad increased by 8.5 percent to 262,416 in the 2007-08 academic year. Four times as many U.S. students participated in study abroad in 2007-08 than in 1987-88, according to the report.

The report also ranks programs by undergraduate participation as a percentage of total undergraduate degrees awarded. By that measure, U.Va.'s participation rate of 41.2 percent places it 22nd among peer institutions, and it is the third-ranked public university after the College of William and Mary and the University of Delaware.

Dudley Doane, director of international, summer and special academic programs, said U.Va.'s faculty members are key to the success of education-abroad programs.

"We focus both on helping students access academically sound education-abroad opportunities and working with faculty to create education-abroad programs that are intellectually challenging and enriching," he said.

Student interest in study abroad has remained high in the past year despite financial challenges that might keep some from participating, the report says.

"All undergraduate financial aid, including AccessUVa, can travel," Markot said, "provided the student is enrolled in a full-time program of study."

However, she added, students who don't need financial aid to attend U.Va. on Grounds, but can't afford the extra cost of going abroad, may miss out, particularly in times of economic uncertainty.

"Additional scholarships, including merit scholarships encouraging study in particular destinations or in particular disciplines can make a large difference," she said.

Leading Doctoral Institutions in Short-Term Study-Abroad Enrollment

1 Michigan State University
2 University of Georgia 1,817
3 University of Delaware 1,688
4 University of Texas - Austin
5 University of Florida Gainesville 1,455
6 Ohio State University
7 San Diego State University
8 University of Minnesota
9 University of Virginia 1,255
10 University of Michigan