Managing Education Abroad: How to Collect & Report Study Abroad Data

April 01, 2009

The Open Doors study abroad survey is the major national data collection reporting system that serves the education abroad community. It is administered and published by the Institute of International Education (IIE), a leading nonprofit educational and cultural exchange organization, which has conducted an annual survey of the foreign student population in the United States since 1949. IIE began collecting study abroad data through the Open Doors survey on a regular basis in 1985-1986, but earlier efforts date back as far as the 1950s. Until 1993, study abroad data were collected from campuses biennially, but from 1994 onward these data have been collected annually. The Open Doors report is supported by a grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State.

Below you will find answers to frequently asked questions about the Open Doors survey. A separate resource provides specific instructions on how to fill out the Open Doors survey. For more information on the how data collected for the Open Doors survey can help you with your work, see Managing Education Abroad: The Value of Collecting and Reporting Education Abroad Data.

Background on the Open Doors Survey

Q: Is Open Doors the only survey instrument to collect study abroad data?

A: Although Open Doors is the major national instrument for collecting study abroad data, many institutions and organizations gather their own data. Many not only collect and analyze the same categories as Open Doors, but also include additional data, such as grade point average.

Additionally, the Data Collection Committee of the Forum on Education Abroad has several current initiatives targeted to expand the scope of data collection and analysis in the field of education abroad.

Q: To whom does IIE send the Open Doors survey?

A: For the Open Doors 2006 report, IIE sent the study abroad survey to 1,484 accredited colleges and universities throughout the United States.

Q: Since the Open Doors survey is currently sent to colleges and universities only, how can independent program providers help in the process?

A: In order to avoid double-counting of students, the survey collects data from each student's home university only. However, since program providers have valuable information about student participation, it would be helpful if they could share this information with their students home institutions. This can easily be done by sending a report of program participants to each school. Many providers already do this routinely.

Q: Who decided what categories are included in Open Doors?

A: The categories are determined by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and NAFSA’s Knowledge Community for Education Abroad.

Q: Can the categories of Open Doors be changed in the future?

A: In the interests of being able to research trends over the long term, it is not desirable to change survey categories too often because that makes it more difficult to compare changes from year to year. However, when categories are not useful or when more meaningful categories can be added these options should be considered. IIE works closely with the Education Abroad Data Collection Subcommittee to find out what education abroad professionals think about data collection and what data the field wants collected. If you have suggestions for changes to the current categories, feel free to contact the chair of the Knowledge Community for Education Abroad's Data Collection Subcommittee.

Q: How are Open Doors data used?

A: Here are some of the ways in which the survey data are used each year:

  • The data are shared with agencies in the United States and overseas, such as NAFSA, U.S. Department of Commerce, foreign educational authorities, etc.
  • Special reports are prepared for organizations such as the British Council and individual governments.
  • IIE issues press releases and works with media outlets to generate interest in study abroad.
  • Graduate students use the data for dissertation research.
  • Study abroad recruiters and providers use the data for planning, marketing, and program development.
  • Individual institutions use the data to compare with peer institutions and to plan for the future.
  • The data are published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Practical Issues on Collecting Data for Open Doors

Q: Who should be responsible for reporting the Open Doors data from my campus?

A: Because each campus has its own unique organization of study abroad activities, IIE faces a challenge in determining the appropriate office or person to whom the questionnaire should be sent. You can help by talking with the various study abroad constituencies on your campus and deciding who should receive and submit the questionnaire. Then you can devise a way to share data, if necessary, to be sure all students are tallied. If you are not sure who at your institution currently receives the questionnaire, contact IIE Research & Evaluation (

Q: Who, exactly, are we supposed to be counting for the Open Doors survey?

A: The Open Doors survey asks for information on students who:

  • Are U.S. students and permanent residents who are enrolled in a degree program (undergraduate or graduate) at your U.S. institution.
  • Have received academic credit toward their degrees for study abroad (regardless of who sponsored the program, your institution or someone else)

There is a slight variation for community colleges that have open enrollment programs, since even regularly enrolled students at community colleges are not officially in degree programs. These students may be counted as long as they are applying the overseas credit toward general education requirements at the community college. (Community colleges should not be counting students who are in degree programs elsewhere. It is the responsibility of the degree-granting institution to count the students.)

Q: Study abroad on my campus is very decentralized. I cannot possibly know about all of the students who study abroad, can I?

A: This would be a good reason to build a good working relationship with all the people on your campus who are involved with study abroad students. If you are the person responsible for submitting the Open Doors report, you should take a lead role by informing the others from whom you need data about exactly what is needed and by when. This should be followed up with polite and friendly reminders.

Use a computerized database to compile the data. It takes time to enter the data, but should save time in the long run. If you are using data from multiple sources, the database can help you find duplicates. You can also enter data over the course of the year, as you gather it from various sources. Then you can run a quick annual report when the Open Doors survey is due. In addition, now that you have the data in a database, you will be able to generate quick reports to meet a myriad of other needs.

Q: How can I convince upper-level administration that tracking students who go abroad is essential?

A: Issues of academic integrity compel us to know exactly what our students are studying and where they are studying. Additionally, many institutions have found that a gripping argument to upper-level administration is the issue of the safety and security of our students abroad, which is, consequently, related to issues of liability and risk for the institution. It IS important for us to know where our students are.

Q: I do not have a complete list of students from my campus who study abroad. Does this mean I should not submit the Open Doors survey?

A: Any data you can submit will be gratefully accepted, even if it is incomplete.

Q: What happens if I submit my data late?

A: If it is past the survey deadline but before IIE has compiled the data, your data can still be included in the current survey. Contact IIE ( as soon as you realize the deadline has passed to see how much of an extension is reasonable. Alternatively, you may contact the chair of the Education Abroad Data Collection Subcommittee.

Q: How can I submit data to Open Doors when the Open Doors categories do not match the data our institution collects?

A: Many institutions have restructured their databases to ask the same questions as Open Doors. Most Open Doors data categories are similar to the questions you would want to ask, such as country of study, major of student, etc. Complete data on each student would be best, but even partial data on students are important and will be included.

Q: I have never received the survey form, so how can I submit data?

A: First, verify with IIE whether someone else at your institution has been submitting the data. Otherwise, the Research Division at IIE will be happy to put you on its mailing list for a survey (contact IIE Research at or 212.984.5348). Alternatively you may contact the chair of the Education Abroad Data Collection Subcommittee.

Q: What factors should I consider when selecting database software?

A: Look for software that the staff in your office can easily learn by themselves (from a book or on-screen help) or by taking local classes. Often a campus will support one or two particular brands of database software. It is usually not a good idea to use software that is not used by others on campus. Consider using software that will allow you to easily import and export data from outside sources, such as word processing or spreadsheet files, or from files saved in another database. This will allow you to more easily share data with other offices and will give you flexibility in generating reports in different formats or in using mail merges when producing letters.