By Melissa Whatley


NAFSA recently published a revision of its list of professional competencies for international educators—NAFSA International Education Professional Competencies 2.0 (IE Competencies 2.0)—that recognizes that professional proficiency requires individuals to be familiar with key trends and issues in international education. One of the 12 interconnected competencies focuses on data collection and analysis as a key skill that international educators need to effectively lead, advocate, and advise in the field. Professionals need to be able to use data to explore the effectiveness of international education programs, processes, and policies and then bring conclusions into the decision-making process. Inclusion and equity is an additional competency included in the IE Competencies 2.0. International educators should champion policies and practices that advance diversity, equity, and inclusion work and create and model inclusive practices. Bringing these two competencies together can lead to powerful insights that help international educators make programmatic changes to improve access to international opportunities for students who are often marginalized and excluded in international education programs, such as community college students.

This piece focuses on a study I recently conducted (Whatley 2022) that explored community college students’ enrollment in internationalized courses and study abroad programs to identify areas to improve access, particularly for underrepresented student groups. This study was especially relevant in the community college context, as these institutions enroll a disproportionate number of students who fall into categories that are underrepresented in international education, such as older students, students from minoritized racial and ethnic groups, and students from low-income backgrounds. In this way, community colleges provide an important example where access to international education programs can be democratized.

In the study, I explored two ways that students can participate in international education, one that involves international travel (short-term study abroad) and one that allows students to remain on their home campus (internationalized coursework). In including both opportunities, this study represents a more comprehensive analysis of who accesses international opportunities at the college that participated in this research. Through exploring student enrollment patterns, the study identifies areas where program and course offerings could be expanded and reformed to include more diverse students. This study is an example of a researcher-practitioner partnership, in which a researcher and a practitioner worked collaboratively, each bringing their respective strengths and backgrounds, to address a key issue in international education practice. The researcher (me) brought skills related to data collection and analysis, while the practitioner (my research partner) helped situate the study in the community college international education context and helped gain access to the data necessary to complete the study.

Working with Data

We used a large dataset containing information from 9,058 students for the study. The majority of the data came from information that institutions collect about their students on a regular basis for internal use and federal data reporting requirements, such as demographic and degree program information. We combined these data from institutional records with information from the college’s international education office, which included lists of students who had studied abroad and students who had enrolled in internationalized classes. Using student identification numbers, we merged these three smaller datasets to create one larger dataset that encompassed student demographic and academic information and information about students’ participation in international education.

The research site was a small, rural community college located in the U.S. Southeast. The dataset spanned multiple terms from fall 2013 to summer 2019. Students who were represented in this dataset had the opportunity to take internationalized courses and study abroad during each term of their enrollment at the community college. At this college, faculty must go through a formal approval process for a course to count as “internationalized.” Specifically, an internationalized course has at least one student outcome that involves global learning listed on the syllabus, uses assessment materials that require students to demonstrate global learning, and provides instructional materials that apply course content in a global context. Study abroad programs are also widely available at this college. In recent years, students have had the opportunity to study in various locations, including France, Guatemala, Japan, and South Africa. Programs are typically short term and faculty led, and they are open access, meaning that any student who wants to study abroad can participate. On average, about 45 individuals study abroad at this community college each academic year. This average participation is high compared with other community colleges located in the same state (Whatley 2020).

To analyze the data, we conducted several regression analyses, which helped us account for various factors that might support or detract from a student’s enrollment in either internationalized coursework or study abroad. In other words, we did not just compare student participation in study abroad or internationalized coursework across racial and ethnic groups but rather we accounted for additional demographic and academic information in a single analysis. This approach was essential, as we know that multiple factors—including racial and ethnic identity, degree program, age, and gender identity—work together to support (or hinder) students’ participation in international education. In the end, we accounted for the following student information in our analyses: racial and ethnic identity; sex; Pell recipient status (a proxy for low-income status); age; first-generation status; full-time or part-time enrollment status; and degree program.

Implications for Inclusion and Equity

Our results indicated several statistically significant predictors of internationalized course enrollment and study abroad participation in the dataset. Key findings for internationalized coursework included the following:

  • Black students were less likely to enroll, while White students were more likely to do so.
  • Students receiving Pell funding were more likely to enroll.
  • Female students were more likely to enroll.
  • Older students were less likely to enroll.
  • Students enrolled in associate in arts and associate in science degree programs were more likely to enroll.

For study abroad, our key findings included:

  • Black students were less likely to study abroad.
  • Latinx students were more likely to study abroad.

When considered together, these findings highlight several areas in which to focus an institution’s inclusivity efforts. Notably, both internationalized coursework and study abroad were less accessible to Black students. International educators need to carefully consider why Black students are not well represented across programs and opportunities. While lack of funds to travel internationally may seem like an obvious conclusion for this group’s underrepresentation in study abroad, this explanation does not help us understand why Black students were also less likely to take internationalized courses. This finding suggests that racial and ethnic disparities in international education participation are deeper than a simple question of finances.

Regarding internationalized coursework specifically, we found patterns where the distribution of internationalized courses across degree programs appeared to be creating inequities among different student groups. When considering on-campus international education opportunities such as internationalized coursework, we need to ensure that opportunities are available across degree programs and subject areas. To the extent that students are not equitably distributed across degree programs, they will have disparate access to international opportunities if internationalized coursework is also inequitably distributed. For example, women are generally more likely to enroll in degree programs that are more frequently associated with international education, such as foreign languages and international affairs. If international education opportunities are offered primarily within these degree programs, then men may be inadvertently excluded.

Finally, we noted that while lower- and higher-income students were equally likely to study abroad at this college, lower-income students were more likely to access on-campus internationalized coursework. While at first it may seem promising that lower-income students were well-represented among internationalized coursework enrollees in this study, international educators must continue to ensure that this population of students is able to access a variety of ways to engage with international education, not only opportunities that are low or no cost.

Concluding Thoughts

The experience of conducting this study together led my partner and me to key questions for future international education programming and important implications for researcher-practitioner partnerships. The questions for international educators to ask themselves focus on the inclusion of groups of students who are often marginalized and excluded from international programs:

  • Does our program portfolio offer a range of options that are welcoming to all students, especially those who have traditionally been marginalized? 
  • Do we offer learning opportunities that all students find engaging and fulfilling? 
  • How can we help students feel included in our programs, starting from initial recruitment efforts?
  • How can we work with faculty, staff, and institutional leaders across fields to ensure that programs are offered to students enrolled in a variety of degree programs?
  • How can we secure scholarships and other funding so that all interested students have the option to study abroad, regardless of their income background?

Observations from the researcher-practitioner partnership include:

  • Working together, we were able to achieve common goals and serve a population of diverse students in a way that we would not have been able to do working alone. By bringing our respective skills and perspectives to our collaboration, we were able to play off each other’s strengths and account for weaknesses that may have emerged if we had each tried to implement this project alone.
  • Access to data was key to the success of this project. To gain access, we had to cultivate relationships with individuals in other units on campus, notably with staff in institutional effectiveness and upper-level administration. Fostering these relationships is important for any researcher-practitioner relationship.
  • Similarly, this study also relied on the accuracy of recordkeeping in the college’s international education office. Because this office kept detailed and accurate records of students’ participation across a variety of international education opportunities, this meant that we could combine reliable data from international education with data from other units on campus.

Through collaborative efforts, international educators can work together to incorporate data into decision-making. By using existing data and connecting research to practice, my practitioner colleague and I were able to identify potential challenges to students’ access to internationalized courses and study abroad at a community college, which in turn meant that we could pursue relevant solutions. Providing data to advocate for international education programs is especially important when asking key stakeholders, such as senior leadership, to redistribute or provide new resources. When research-practitioner partnerships combine data collection and analysis and inclusion and equity efforts with other key competencies in our field—such as communication, relationship cultivation, and leadership—they can make a substantial impact on whether and how students from diverse demographic groups access international education opportunities.


Whatley, Melissa. 2022. Who enrolls in internationalized courses? An exploration of at-home access at one community college. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education.


Melissa Whatley, PhD, is an assistant professor of international and global education at the School for International Training’s Graduate Institute. In her work, she explores issues related to marginalized students in U.S. international education, including community college students and international students.

Hear more on Dr. Whatley's research

Join the Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship Knowledge Community on November 29 at 1:00 p.m. EST to hear from Melissa Whatley, the recipient of the 2023 Innovative Research in International Education Award. The event, which is open to all, includes a presentation on Whatley's research on students' access to international education opportunities at community colleges and a group discussion on the topics of innovation and impact in research in the field. All are encouraged to attend.