Collecting and reporting accurate study abroad data is
one of the most compelling ways for study abroad offices to demonstrate how
they support the mission of their campus and contribute to the educational
experience of their students. Even though setting up an effective data
collection and reporting system can require the investment of some time and
resources, it is a worthwhile effort for many reasons. Here are some of the key
values and benefits of committing your institution to keeping and reporting
accurate study abroad data:
- Ensure the health, safety and security of students. Institutions cannot demonstrate that they are effectively ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of their students abroad if they cannot even produce a list of who the students are and where they are. Whether from an ethical or a liability standpoint, how, for example, can an institution conduct periodic assessments of health and safety conditions for a study abroad program; develop and maintain emergency preparedness processes and a crisis response plan; or provide health and safety information for prospective participants if its study abroad office does not know who or where all of the institution's programs and students are? An institution could suffer negative ethical, public relations, and legal consequences for not keeping minimally adequate study abroad data.
- Improve study abroad marketing efforts. Study abroad data can play an important role in marketing an institution's study abroad programs, both on- and off-campus, particularly when looking at longer term participation trends. If a particular program isn't attracting students as successfully as it did in the previous two years, for example, that could signal a need for your study abroad office to collaborate with the faculty members and departments involved in the program to intensify recruiting efforts. Collecting study abroad data can also help you pinpoint regions of the world or certain majors that are underrepresented in study abroad participation and thus might require more focused marketing support. Conversely, accurate data can help identify popular programs that don't need heavy promotion.
- Support study abroad program planning and development. Good study abroad data can help you identify areas for new study abroad program development and sponsorship on your campus. The data can help you identify academic departments, academic interests, geographical areas, or student groups that are underrepresented in study abroad participation, which could help you make decisions about adding, eliminating, or changing programs. On a national and international level, the data you provide to the Open Doors study abroad survey is used by study abroad recruiters and providers for planning, marketing, and program development.
- Assist campus recruitment efforts. Study abroad data can help your institution with its overall student recruitment and retention efforts. In light of the rapidly increasing numbers of students opting for programs abroad, many colleges and universities are finding that there are clear marketing advantages for those institutions that can lay claim in their view books, videos, and other promotional materials to actively promoting and developing study abroad opportunities for their students, with solid numbers to back up their claim. Study abroad, in other words, is being increasingly identified as a means of attracting, and at some institutions, of keeping good students.
- Support fundraising efforts. If your study abroad participation figures are at all significant, these data could prove critical in helping to secure funding from corporations, foundations and individual donors interested in supporting study abroad efforts at your institution.
- Shape and inform institutional policy. Accurate data can comprise a critical part of an institution's efforts to shape institutional policy around study abroad. For example, if a university has committed itself to a specific study abroad participation target, the university's senior leadership will need accurate data to be able to mark the institution's progress toward that goal. Or if a college has committed itself to a policy goal to increase the participation of its minority students in study abroad programs, accurate data are essential for setting a baseline and tracking progress.
- Support study abroad advocacy efforts. Study abroad data can help you advocate internally and externally on behalf of your education abroad programs. You can use the data to highlight significant program accomplishments, develop press releases, and respond to any criticisms or attacks on your study abroad programs. Additionally, in the process of collecting study abroad data, your education abroad office or function has the opportunity to develop relationships with a wide variety of constituencies across campus. This interaction provides a useful platform from which you can not only educate others on campus about education abroad but also learn more about how education abroad interfaces with the work and office functions of others on campus. On a national level, you can contribute your data to the databank that national organizations, such as Fulbright, Foreign Language and Area Study Programs (FLAS), and National Security Education Program (NSEP)use to justify funding requests.
- Justify budget and resource allocation. Study abroad offices can use their study abroad data to justify keeping or expanding resources for the office. For example, your study abroad office could use hard data that show growing study abroad participation to justify the expansion of your staff and/or space to meet the rising demand (or perhaps to retain your staff and/or space during budget shortages).