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All Abroad! Overseas Study Required at Goucher College [The Chronicle of Higher Ed]

June 16, 2008

By Karin Fischer, The Chronicle of Higher Education

Goucher College’s picturesque campus, on 290 leafy acres just north of Baltimore, plays well in college-admissions materials. Officials at this private liberal-arts institution, however, hope students will also be attracted by the opportunity to get away.

Two years ago, Goucher began requiring all students to earn some academic credit abroad, one of possibly just two American colleges to make overseas study mandatory.

Goucher officials wanted to “convey in no uncertain terms that a cross-cultural experience is critical,” says Eric Singer, associate dean of international studies. They also hope that the requirement, which comes with a $1,200 voucher to help defray some of the expense, will make the college distinctive to prospective students.

The Goucher experiment is still in its infancy — the college will welcome the third class to enroll under the requirement this fall. And several colleges, like Kalamazoo, in Michigan, and Dickinson, in Pennsylvania, have succeeded in sending nearly all their undergraduates abroad without such a requirement.

But with academic, business, and political leaders in agreement that international study is one of the best ways to produce globally literate citizens, administrators at other institutions say they are closely following Goucher’s experience as they seek to increase their own foreign-study participation rates.

“We have to look at what’s happening — or not happening — on campuses to find more ways to make study abroad available,” says Allan E. Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education, a nonprofit organization involved in international exchanges. He notes that 55 percent of collegebound high-school seniors in a recent survey said they planned to study overseas, but just 1 percent of American students actually do so.

In many ways, Goucher’s experience magnifies the challenges other colleges have faced as they seek to expand international study.

Administrators here have wrestled with concerns over cost and capacity as they seek programs of sufficient variety and quality to accommodate growing demand. In this first phase, at least, Goucher has found itself relying on short, faculty-led trips as it begins the slow process of vetting longer-term programs. Some faculty members and students, however, have questioned the educational value of such brief stints abroad. And a number of professors say they sometimes feel in over their heads as they struggle to be both academics and travel coordinators.

Faculty buy-in is important, international-education experts say. Without it, foreign study risks becoming disconnected from the rest of the college experience.

“The number of students abroad itself, that’s just the input,” says Brian J. Whalen, president of the Forum on Education Abroad, a consortium of American and overseas colleges and study-abroad providers. “The real measure is the impact on the institution and on what students are learning.” [Click here to read the full story. Subscription only.]

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