IIE Blog Opening Minds
IIE Blog Opening Minds

Idea 7: fix the broken systems on campuses that unnecessarily hinder study abroad

By: IIE on Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Financial aid, scholarships and the process of applying for study abroad are broken at worst and convoluted at best at many campuses. These systems are not set up to “talk to each other” and the user experience, which the student encounters, is frustrating. Resources should be centralized and processes simplified for today’s digitally minded students. In addition to the problems with the systems, the “softer side” of the process is not always organized and clear, and the messages and advice surrounding study abroad are not always consistent and integrated.

  • Develop a step-by-step procedure or analysis for identifying broken systems that hinder communication on campus—academic calendar, curriculum integration, credit transfer, clarifying financial aid policies for study abroad—then share it. 
  • Streamline the study abroad process so it can be easily done online and relatively quickly, perhaps using a Common Application-type approach.
  • Centralize the messages and materials in common areas, but also request that every department/college share study abroad information.
  • Provide cross-cultural training both prior to departure and upon reentry so students understand how to prepare for the experience as well as how to make the most of it on the ground; reentry should consist of reintegration and incorporation of the experience into the resume and job-search materials.
  • Incorporate study abroad messaging at first year/freshman orientation, and add “touch points” throughout students’ first two years to repeat the message and inspire action (or at least additional research or further questions).
  • Embed study abroad in core required courses, such as history or geography, and make it clear during the admissions process and/or campus orientation that students will need to fulfill the credits. Provide a toolkit to enhance the study abroad office’s interaction with students; instead of asking “where do you want to go?” find out a student’s area of study and/or professional goals in order to position their study abroad correctly from the start.
  • Share best practices more widely from campuses who are doing this well; encourage mentoring of colleagues at other campuses and sharing prototype materials.

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This blog entry summarizes Idea 7 of 11 “Big Ideas” brainstormed during IIE's Generation Study Abroad Think Tank event in March 2014. They are compiled in the IIE Green Paper, “What will it take to Double Study Abroad?


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For more than nine decades, the Institute of International Education has been at the forefront of international education. The Opening Minds blog is IIE’s take on how this field continues to change. Here the Institute’s leaders will explore international educational exchange, global student mobility, institutional partnerships, international development, and other topics and trends that are shaping higher education around the world.

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