From the Vice Provost and Associate Vice Provost

Study Abroad: Academically Core, Professionally Essential and Increasingly Affordable

In recent years higher education and U.S. government leaders have joined study abroad directors across the country to aggressively expand international academic opportunities and encourage significantly greater numbers of students to take advantage of them. Many leaders have argued that an international educational experience is essential to a quality higher education, and more important than ever before in today's global economy and society. Indeed some have stated that we give our best and brightest students an incomplete education if we do not provide them with a substantive international academic experience. However, insufficient financial aid is the single most important barrier to participation in this life changing experience.

Recently the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released its annual statistical educational report, "Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators." OECD confirmed that the number of international higher education students worldwide has grown dramatically, and calculated that in 2010 there were 4.1 million international students. Just a few months ago The Chronicle of Higher Education estimated that the number is much larger, probably around 5 million, up from 2.1 million ten years earlier. The U.S. has been the largest recipient of international students, who this year number approximately 750,000. At the same time, while the number of American students going abroad has more than tripled over the past two decades, only 270,000 U.S. students (approximately 1%) studied overseas for academic credit. Moreover, the majority of U.S. students studying abroad fit a narrow demographic: females; upper and middle class; and humanities and social science majors who studied abroad in Western Europe.

Nationwide support for study abroad is very high among U.S. public and college-bound high school students. Although surveys of prospective college students indicate that approximately 80% expect to study abroad during their college years, less than 10% actually do so. Several real or perceived barriers to participation exist, many of which have been addressed in recent years. Better integration of international courses into students' general education and major requirements has been implemented on many campuses, including UC Davis. Second, studies have rejected the myth that studying overseas delays time to degree. These studies actually revealed that students who participate in study abroad programs graduate in a timely manner and at the same or higher rates as those who do not, even when controlling for different GPAs. Third, a recent survey of more than 10,000 British and American students concluded that a great deterrent may simply be a lack of adequate information about overseas study. Only 24% of U.S. students reported that they had sufficient information to make decisions about study abroad. When UC Davis drastically reduced the number of academic advisors for the UC Education Abroad Program due to budget cuts, enrollments dropped precipitously. The restoration of those advisors has led to a strong rebound.

However, the single most important reason for students not to participate in study abroad remains the higher costs and insufficient financial aid. Many UC Davis students who initially take the time to seek information and register for various study abroad programs fail to complete applications for financial reasons. Legislation was introduced several years ago at the national level to create an independent government entity and authorize $80 million in grants to provide study abroad opportunities for one million students within a decade (Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act). Unfortunately, the legislation has failed multiple times in Congress. Last year when the Obama administration proposed to double the number of American students studying in China by 2014 (up from 13,000) and to 100,000 over time (100,000 Strong Initiative), no new funds were allocated. Instead the project was relegated to relying on private sector backing. Less than $5 million has been donated to date.

Recognizing the critical need to provide financial support for our students, UC Davis, University Outreach and International Programs, and the Education Abroad Center have initiated several efforts to make our expanding and diversified programs on six continents more affordable. Several programs have been developed that are shorter in duration with fees that align more closely with the costs of taking courses on campus. However, the most important efforts have been to make scholarship support one of the highest priorities for the campus. As this newsletter reports, important strides have been made. The $1 million challenge endowment gift by Ann Pitzer is the most significant effort to date, but must be considered only the first step. With more than 70 percent of undergraduates already receiving financial aid, much more is needed to enable our talented but limited resource students to realize this key opportunity. With the Ann Pitzer gift as a critical stimulus, we have launched a campaign to solicit forty $25,000 study abroad scholarship endowments to match her support. (uoip.ucdavis.edu/giving)

Providing opportunities for international education for all our students is core to our pedagogical mission and essential for their education and professional preparation.

-William B. Lacy, Vice Provost
Adrienne Martín, Associate Vice Provost