Study Abroad Participation Among U.S. College Students Dropped Slightly In 2008-09 School Year

November 17, 2010

Antique globe, graduation cap and stack of booksA report by the Institute of International Education (IIE) stated that the number of U.S. students studying abroad for college credit declined during the 2008-09 academic year.

According to Inside Higher Ed, the decline was slight--0.8 percent--but significant, nonetheless, as it is the first decline in the 25 years that data has been collected for the annual Open Doors report. The decline, however, was somewhat expected as data was collected during the height of the recession. "This is certainly not a good year to expect a whole lot of people to continue their aspirations to study abroad," said Peggy Blumenthal, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the IIE.

As USA Today reported, Europe continued to be the most popular study abroad destination, but some students opted to broaden their horizons. This expansion was most likely fueled by new and less expensive programs. Enrollment rose in Africa (16 percent), Asia (2 percent) and South America (13 percent).

Inside Higher Ed added that 15 of the top 25 destinations were outside Western Europe; 19 of which were countries that do not use English as the primary language. Peru saw the largest increase, 32.1 percent. Other traditionally less popular programs that saw an increase in enrollment included South Korea, Chile, Denmark and Argentina.

"You see a real intellectual curiosity among young people and among campus faculty in needing to help understand the rest of the world and how the rest of the world sees us," said Blumenthal. She added that students also considered destinations that were more tied to their future careers.

When asked about the diverse locations, State Department Assistant Secretary Ann Stock told USA Today, "In a globalized economy, this just makes sense for our young people and our country."

While financial hardships prevented many students from studying abroad, money was not the only concern. Enrollment in study abroad programs to Mexico dropped 26.3 percent due to the H1N1 virus outbreak. Safety was also a concern due to drug-related violence along the border.

According to The Washington Post, New York University once again sent the most students abroad, followed by Michigan State University and University of California Los Angeles, which Inside Higher Ed noted was a newcomer to the top three.

Separate surveys conducted this fall indicate that the 2008-09 decline will rebound and study abroad participation will increase next year. Many colleges reported taking steps to avoid another decline and, as a result, 55 percent said more students studied abroad in 2009-10. Furthermore, colleges also reported fewer budget and staffing cuts this year.

Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin


"College study abroad suffers its first decline," USAToday.com, November 15, 2010, Mary Beth Marklein

"Economy Doesn't Stymie Study Abroad," insidehighered.com, November 15, 2010, Allie Grasgreen

"Open Doors Report 2010," iie.org, November 15, 2010

"Study abroad declines for the first time ever," voices.washingtonpost.com, November 15, 2010, Daniel de Vise

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