Why the United States Needs a National Strategy to Promote Study Abroad

April 15, 2019

By Mark Farmer

Karin Fischer, reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education, asked why the United States needed a national strategy to promote study abroad. This is my response.

The United States needs a national strategy to promote study abroad because study abroad strengthens our national and economic security and provides countless benefits to our students, but it remains out of the question for far too many.

A national strategy would provide much needed resources and attention on study abroad. As many as 80% of students entering college would study abroad, but only 10% do before they graduate. Addressing the systemic and institutional barriers that keep students from studying abroad is the only way to significantly and sustainably increase the number of students going abroad.

Take Action:Urge your Senators to cosponsor the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act on Connecting Our World.

Today's college students, including first-generation students, are navigating a complicated higher education system and too often believe that they won't be able to find an affordable study abroad program that fits within a degree and won't add time to graduation. A national strategy on study abroad would provide more resources and support for institutions to integrate study abroad into the curriculum and encourage institutions to find local and international partners to facilitate international travel so that an international education experience fits easily within a student's college career.

A national strategy for study abroad would help to change the questions from "if" and "why" a student is studying abroad to "when" and "where." For too long, study abroad has been viewed as a benefit for the rich or a program for language or humanities majors. That view is outdated, and it hurts the students who need an international experience the most. Survey results show 75% of employersIcon PDF 16 said a global perspective is important for their staff, and 86% of employers believe that their business would increase if more staff had international experience. Students who study abroad have higher graduation rates and graduate with higher GPAs, and community college students who study abroad have higher transfer rates.

The full benefits of studying abroad can be hard to quantify, but there is a reason why almost everybody who studies abroad returns saying that it was a life-changing experience and so many students who don't study abroad say it was one of their biggest regrets. A national strategy for study abroad would ensure that all students, regardless of their major, income, choice of school, or disability, would have the opportunity to study abroad before they graduate, and it would lead to a more innovative, secure and prosperous United States.

The Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act is a big step towards having a comprehensive, national study abroad strategy, and every Senator should join Senators Durbin, Wicker, and Leahy in supporting this piece of legislation.

Mark Farmer is director of higher education and public policy at NAFSA: Association of Educators.