Show Me the Impact! IIE Report Provides Evidence that Higher Education Opportunities Lead to Social Change

It is an exciting day at the IIE Center for Academic Mobility Research and Impact. We are releasing the first findings of our ten-year longitudinal study of the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program (IFP). The report Social Justice and Sustainable Change: The Impacts of Higher Education contributes to research and policy dialogue about the potential long-term impacts of an international fellowship program like IFP.

Unprecedented in its size and scope, the IFP Alumni Tracking Study explores the impacts of IFP on its more than 4,300 alumni, and the communities in which they live and work. This study has positioned IIE to be at the forefront of research that links higher education to broader social change.

What are the key findings?

Social Justice and Sustainable Change provides evidence that the International Fellowships Program, funded by the Ford Foundation and implemented by IIE in partnership with the International Fellowships Fund (IFF), had a transformational impact on its Fellows. Further, the report findings indicate that the impacts of IFP have gone beyond just the individual outcomes, affecting organizations and communities where IFP leaders have promoted social change.

  • Teach One, Reach All: Supporting Advocates Leads to Immediate Changes in Wider Communities: Over 900 IFP alumni have created new programs and organizations; 97% of these initiatives address social issues or provide community services, and 48% of them were created by women. Alumni report that these new programs and organizations have impacted an estimated 9.5 million individuals in the IFP countries and 860,000 additional individuals worldwide.

    IFP Estimated Magnitude of Impact

  • Fellows Advance Public Discourse about Social Justice: IFP alumni have produced nearly 35,000 journal and news articles, reports, works of visual art, book chapters, or influential presentations. The combined body of work of the survey respondents includes 12,000 conference presentations and almost 15,500 print resources (including over 600 books).

  • More Professional Opportunities for Social Justice Leaders Drive Impact: Ninety-one percent of alumni report that the program expanded their professional opportunities. Nearly 80% of IFP alumni hold a senior leadership role in their work, and 87% indicated that IFP helped increase their leadership skills. IFP alumni are leading members of national governments, local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and international organizations.
  • Investing in Emerging Leaders Committed to Local Change Helps Avert Brain Drain: Contrary to concerns about the brain drain that may result from conducting graduate-level academic studies away from home, IFP alumni have demonstrated that they are committed to local work in their home countries and communities. 84% of alumni currently live in their home country. In addition to the majority of alumni who returned to their home countries, the 16% who are abroad also report significant impact on their communities and countries of origin, and across global organizations.

  • Fellows Spearhead Organizational Change and Corporate Responsibility: 84% of IFP alumni reported making improvements in the organizations where they work or volunteer as a result of their IFP fellowship, impacting approximately 66,800 employees and volunteers worldwide.

Why is this study important to IIE?

The IFP Alumni Tracking Study is taking place over ten years (2013-2023) and includes the perspectives of 4,305 alumni across 22 countries. This research provides our evaluation team with the opportunity to carry out longitudinal studies of this kind, studying the link between higher education and social change, and the effect that higher education opportunities can have on marginalized populations. Thus, IIE is building its expertise not only in administering international higher education programs, but also in evaluating the impact of international higher education programs worldwide.

The study provides important lessons for the over 200 fellowship and scholarship programs that we implement at IIE, and about whose outcomes and impact we care deeply about.

What we are learning thus far:

  • Engagement with grantees and alumni needs to begin early, right when they begin their programs or even earlier. If we do not gather data on our grantees right from the beginning, we lose critical opportunities to measure the impact that we are having on them and their future pathways.
  • Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) is critical throughout the program cycle. This ensures that our programs will have the right data available for evaluation purposes and that we will be able to measure impact in the long-term.
  • It is integral to encourage programs to stay in touch with their fellows and provide opportunities for alumni to create networks. At IIE, our efforts to encourage alumni networking across IIE programs are being spearheaded by the IIE Alumni Initiative.
  • We have to be cognizant that using just one research method will not suffice to learn about the program impacts. As such, our IIE evaluation team specializes in employing mixed methods to learn about program effects quantitatively and qualitatively.
  • We are committed to sharing best practices and lessons learned in the field of international education and social justice, and contributing to literature about carrying our studies like the IFP Alumni Tracking Study. Learn more about our Evaluation Services and Projects, follow us on Twitter, and stay up to date with our work!