IIE Blog Opening Minds
IIE Blog Opening Minds

What the Past Tells Us About the Future of Study Abroad

By: Christine Farrugia on Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Over the past fifteen years, the number of American students studying abroad has more than doubled. In 1998/99, there were just 129,770 American students studying abroad for academic credit from their home institution, and in 2012/13 that number has grown to 289,408. When you also consider that more than 46,000 American students pursue full degrees abroad and over 15,000 students travel overseas for non-credit work, internships, and volunteering, the current number of U.S. students overseas grows to more than 350,000. What is clear is that American students are increasingly interested in studying abroad and that U.S. higher education institutions are active in providing study abroad experiences for their students.

Despite the great achievement of doubling U.S. study abroad over the past fifteen years, there has been a marked slowing of the growth in study abroad over the past five years. We need to do better. In 2012/13, the number of Americans studying abroad increased by just 2 percent, in keeping with the modest growth rates that we have seen over the past several years. At the current rate of growth, it would take another 35 years for us to double the number of study abroad students again.

U.S. Study Abroad Growth

To achieve Generation Study Abroad’s ambitious goal of doubling study abroad by the end of the decade, the US higher education community needs to increase the number of American students abroad by almost 15 percent each year over the next five years. This goal is not out of reach. From 1996 to 2000, there was double-digit growth each year in the number of American students abroad.

Annual Growth Rates of U.S. Students Abroad

Even though the absolute number of U.S. students studying abroad has increased substantially over the past several decades, fewer than 10 percent of American undergraduates study abroad before graduation; this proportion has not changed. Generation Study Abroad’s 450 commitment partners are working to make study abroad accessible to all American so that they all have the opportunity to live and learn abroad to prepare them to compete in the global workforce and to be leaders in the 21st century.

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  • Ann said:
    2/22/2015 7:55 PM

    The ability for students to study abroad should be accessible to all. Unfortunately, not all students are able to afford the cost of this opportunity. The differences in post secondary educational opportunities is much deeper than being able to study overseas, it starts at the ability to attend college in the first place. Having the ability to not only attend college, but attend overseas gives students greater opportunities for knowledge growth. If interested, all students should be afforded the opportunity to study abroad in some way.

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About Opening Minds

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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