What the Past Tells Us About the Future of Study Abroad

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.

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.

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.