15 Years’ Focus on Study Abroad


NAFSA’s ongoing efforts to support education abroad professionals have contributed to a steady increase in the U.S. student participation. This commitment continues today and is reconfirmed in our new Strategic Plan 2014-2016, Goal 5: Develop global competencies of students, scholars, and educators by encouraging and supporting expansion of meaningful interaction across cultures. NAFSA encourages further development of practices that increase the diversity and number of U.S. students studying abroad and of international students entering higher education institutions in the U.S.

Historical Background

NAFSA first called for a national focus on increasing the diversity and number of U.S. students studying abroad in 1999, when our advocacy resulted in President Clinton directing the federal government to promote study abroad by U.S. students, enhance programs at U.S. institutions that build partnerships, and expand high-quality foreign language learning and in-depth knowledge of other cultures by Americans. Specifically, the President directed the Secretaries of Education and State to support the efforts of schools and colleges to:

  • Improve access to high-quality international educational experiences by increasing the number and diversity of students who study and intern abroad
  • Encouraging students and institutions to choose nontraditional study abroad locations
  • Helping under-represented U.S. institutions offer and promote study-abroad opportunities for their students.

Since that time, NAFSA has continued to lead the effort for increasing and diversifying study abroad, in collaboration with organizations like the:

  • Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange
  • The Association of Public Land Grant Universities (APLU, formerly NASULGC)
  • The American Council on Education (ACE)
  • The Association of American State Colleges and Universities (AASCU)

We have seen a number of major milestones along the way, including legislation passed by the Senate calling for a significant increase in study abroad; the establishment of a federal commission to recommend a national program to double the number of students studying abroad, with emphasis of diversity of students and destinations; subsequent legislation introduced to accomplish the goals of the Lincoln Commission; 100,000 Strong Initiatives aimed at increasing U.S. study abroad to China and to Latin America and the Caribbean and more.

Thanks in large part to the advocacy of NAFSA and its members articulating the need to make study abroad a pillar of U.S. higher education, study abroad participation has nearly doubled in the past decade. (According to Open Doors, study abroad has grown from 143,590 in 1999/2000 to 283,332 in 2011/2012). More progress needs to be made on increasing the diversity of students and destinations.

NAFSA Resources to Grow and Expand Study Abroad

Our resources and discussion forums provide a wealth of guidance and model practices to support education abroad professionals in their work.

To subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter “What’s New in Education Abroad” please email educationabroad@nafsa.org.