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Student Interest in Study Abroad and International Learning Ranks High [American Council on Education]

March 5, 2008

Published February 25, 2008 by the American Council on Education 

Despite global terrorism and other tumultuous international events, college-bound high school students’ interest in study abroad and other international learning experiences while in college is strong, according to a recent study conducted by the American Council on Education (ACE), Art & Science Group, and the College Board.

Today, 55 percent of college-bound students say they are certain or fairly certain they will participate in study abroad. Moreover, the study reveals that many students come to college with more internationally diverse backgrounds and experiences. Not surprisingly, a high proportion want the college they attend to offer a wide range of international experiences and opportunities from internships and study abroad programs to courses on international topics and opportunities to interact with students from other countries.

The findings published today in a Special Edition of studentPOLL, College-Bound Students’ Interests in Study Abroad and Other International Learning Activities, are based on a national survey of 1,500 high school seniors. The findings provide strong evidence that interest in international learning for these students is high.

Among the study’s key findings:

  • Thirty-five percent of college-bound high school students in 2007 intend to seek an internship abroad. Moreover, students plan to intern in many places around the globe including Asia, Africa and Australia.
  • Thirty-seven percent said they were very interested in gaining work experience in another country.
  • Among students planning to study abroad, more than 70 percent plan to either become proficient in a second language or at least learn enough of the language to converse comfortably with others in that country.
  • While a semester is the preferred duration for study abroad, nearly a fifth of students were interested in a yearlong study abroad program.
  • Reflecting students’ internationally diverse backgrounds and experiences, 61 percent have traveled in another country with their families; 31 percent of students today have an immediate family member who moved from another country to the United States; and 26 percent say the primary language spoken in their home is not English.

“The findings of this study have tremendous implications for the internationalization of higher education, ranging from the scope and nature of language offerings to the barriers to study abroad that many institutions have often unintentionally created,” said Madeleine F. Green, vice president, International Initiatives at ACE. “Colleges must do more to encourage and support international learning, particularly in light of the findings of this study.”

The study suggests that institutions that do not encourage and expand international learning experiences may find themselves at an increasing disadvantage in enrolling the current generation of students and satisfying their strong desires for a truly global college education.

“The reality, unfortunately, is that while a majority of students enroll in college with the expectation of studying abroad, less than 5 percent actually do during their college years,” said Richard Hesel, a principal at Art & Science Group. “It is critical for colleges and universities to carefully examine their own international study practices, policies, and programs to minimize the financial, academic, or other barriers that undermine students’ ability to study abroad.”

“In the newly globalized economic environment, it is essential that students have a greater understanding of other nations and cultures. Through their desire to study in other countries, our students are showing us that they understand this need,” added Michael Bartini, senior vice president for enrollment at the College Board. “The College Board encourages all institutions of higher education to provide opportunities for U.S. students to have a truly international experience as part of their undergraduate education.”

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