New NAFSA Research Provides Evidence that Institutional Grants are an Effective Tool to Grow Study Abroad


New Study: “Moving the Needle: Leveraging Innovation for Institutional Change in Study Abroad” released at NAFSA Annual Conference


Rebecca Morgan, 202.495.2553,
Alan Fleming, 202.495.2528,

DENVER, Col., May 31, 2016 – NAFSA: Association of International Educators (NAFSA) today released results of a national study that evaluated the impact of specific institutional grants on the support, reach and sustainability of study abroad programs at higher education institutions. These “Innovation Grants,” were designed to help colleges and universities address the institutional, curricular and cultural barriers that keep students from studying abroad. The study, Moving the Needle: Leveraging Innovation for Institutional Change in Study Abroad, found that Innovation Grants can lead to increases in participation and a greater commitment to study abroad, a theory long held by the international education field, but uncorroborated until now.

Innovation Grants were developed based on recommendations of NAFSA’s 2003 Strategic Task Force on Education Abroad and the subsequent Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program. The task force and commission both concluded that the main barriers to study abroad are at the campus level, and that in order to increase study abroad, it is necessary to incentivize colleges and universities to remove the institutional barriers preventing their students from studying abroad.

NAFSA’s study examined each phase of the grant process and found that institutional benefits occurred in three distinct phases: grant development, grant funding and post-funding. It is in the post-funding phase where the impact of the grants suggests long-term and sustainable results.

The study found that the first phase of the process resulted in immediate benefits, as the development of the grant proposals served as a platform for study abroad champions to move the conversation with campus leadership from a general sense of support for study abroad to actual commitments of financial resources. The study concluded that institutions that applied, but did not receive grant funding, still increased their support for study abroad.

During the grant funding phase, institutions awarded Innovation Grants reported an increase in the number and diversity of students studying abroad, a key goal of the grant programs. Recipients received greater support for study abroad activities from campus leadership, and leveraged new and strengthened existing relationships across campus, all recommended elements for sustainable and impactful study abroad programs.

The post-funding phase showed the potential of the grants to have long-term impact. Recipients of Innovation Grants saw institutional benefits extend further than just the specific program or project funded by the grant. Examples of progress reported by grant recipients toward systemic growth and sustainability in study abroad included:

  • establishing and growing new study abroad programs;
  • developing study abroad infrastructure;
  • engaging new student populations and developing study abroad in diverse academic majors;
  • engaging new faculty and campus leaders; and
  • elevating the profile and prestige of study abroad.

Ninety-six percent of respondents reported that new student populations studied abroad because of the grant, and every respondent indicated that the grants created or strengthened university partnerships for study abroad.

“While many other programs offer funds to individual students, Innovation Grants are awarded to institutions to encourage them to prioritize study abroad in new and inventive ways that make it easier for students to have these important global experiences,” explained Marlene M. Johnson, NAFSA Executive Director and CEO. “This study acknowledges what we have long believed, that Innovation Grants would help the nation’s colleges and universities break down the barriers to study abroad, which we must do in order to make study abroad an opportunity for every American student. This research is the first step in finding a real solution to truly growing study abroad.”

The research study examined three institutional study abroad programs – 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, the Transatlantic Friendship and Mobility Initiative (a partnership between the United States and France), and the U.S.-China Education Trust Student Leaders Exchange Program. Additional research will be produced over the next decade to further examine the impact of the Innovation Grants and how U.S. colleges and universities can utilize them to further grow study abroad.

“I am encouraged by the commitment of NAFSA and others to continue the work of my father, Senator Paul Simon, to democratize access to study abroad,” said Martin Simon, the son of the late distinguished Senator Paul Simon. “This report offers evidence that the approach detailed in the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Act works. The next step is for Congress to pass legislation that would ensure we have students studying in far greater numbers and in more diverse locations throughout the world.”


Sample tweet: New @NAFSA research proves institutional grant model is effective to grow study abroad. #100KStrongAmericas #NAFSA16

About NAFSA: With more than 10,000 members, NAFSA: Association of International Educators is the world's largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education. Visit us at To learn more about our advocacy efforts on behalf of international education, visit and @ConnectOurWorld on Twitter.