IIE Releases Non-Credit Education Abroad Report

IIE Pilot Study Captures Full Range of Students’ Non-Credit Education Abroad (NCEA); Calls on Colleges & Universities to Collect Accurate, Comprehensive Data

NEW YORK, March 30, 2016—U.S. college students are pursuing a broader range of international educational activities despite not receiving academic credit for them, according to a new report by the Institute of International Education (IIE). While educators surveyed in IIE’s new report agree that the landscape of international experiential learning is growing, “Non-Credit Education Abroad” (NCEA) activities are largely underreported, despite the fact that they advance the colleges’ mission of preparing their students to live and work in a global economy. The IIE study found that students are pursuing a range of NCEA activities that go beyond non-credit work, internships and volunteer abroad (WIVA) including conducting research or field work, presenting at academic conferences, competing in athletic events, and engaging in the performing arts.

IIE piloted the study, The World is the New Classroom: Non-Credit Education Abroad, to begin to address this information gap, and to provide an initial profile of the students who are undertaking these experiential learning activities abroad, their destinations, specific activities, and travel planning methods. To advance the discussion and help campuses to better understand and plan for these activities, IIE will hold an online discussion on defining and tracking NCEA activities on April 14, 2016.

Universities attributed the growth of Non-Credit Education Abroad activities to several factors, including:

  • the increased availability of NCEA activities offered by the home campus (29 percent);
  • student interest in gaining international work experience (27 percent);
  • the flexibility NCEA offers students to gain international experiences without impacting their studies (26 percent);
  • lower costs for non-credit vs. for-credit education abroad (21 percent).

In addition, some campuses report that they are capturing more information about students who are going abroad for NCEA activities due to improved methods of tracking these experiences.

“Students have a strong interest in experiential learning outside of the traditional classroom model, and not receiving academic credit does not appear to be deterring them,” said Dr. Rajika Bhandari, IIE’s Deputy Vice President for Research and Evaluation. “The time is now for higher education institutions to have deliberate conversations about their study abroad policies and goals, and to take part in the dialogue to help standardize the categories and definition of Non-Credit Education Abroad so that we can capture this data and produce meaningful analysis to the field.”

Educators have indicated that students are already re-defining what it means to study abroad. The Open Doors® report shows that 304,000 U.S. students received academic credit for study abroad in 2013/14, and for 19,000 of these students, their for-credit study abroad experiences included work or internships. However, it is increasingly clear that more U.S. students are also engaging in a range of additional experiential activities for which they do not receive academic credit. In order to begin capturing some of these activities, IIE began surveying campuses about their students’ non-credit activities in 2012. More than 22,000 American students participated in non-credit work, internship, and volunteer abroad (WIVA) experiences in 2013/14, according to Open Doors®. But students who engage in WIVA activities only account for an estimated half of all students who pursue Non-Credit Education Abroad. Without an industry-wide consensus on the definition of NCEA and best practices for tracking NCEA, there is no way to record accurate, consistent data on all U.S. students’ NCEA activities.

“The Generation Study Abroad® network of more than 600 Commitment Partners shows that there’s a movement to get more students to participate in study abroad, but the fact remains that only about 10% of U.S. undergraduates study abroad for academic credit,” said Daniel Obst, IIE’s Deputy Vice President for International Partnerships in Higher Education. “The good news is we know that students are, however, pursuing non-credit educational experiences outside of the United States. It will be critical for higher education institutions to capture the full range of students’ international educational activities, especially as colleges and universities form strategies to boost study abroad participation.”

In order to be prepared to provide international experiences that meet growing student demand, colleges and universities will need to actively seek information on what their students are already pursuing overseas. In the report, IIE provides guidance to colleges and universities to define and better track their students’ non-credit activities, and to develop accurate counts and profiles of these students and their destinations. IIE is examining “Non-Credit Education Abroad” (NCEA) to kick off an industry-wide discussion about reaching a common standard for fully documenting American students’ global experiences.

The World is the New Classroom reports information from 227 higher education institutions to provide a critical first step in understanding U.S. institutions’ NCEA definitions and data collection processes. The report contains data and best practices to help higher education institutions to understand the current and evolving educational needs and interests of their students. The report, which is based on data from the 2012/13 academic year, can be downloaded at no cost from IIE’s publications site.

Key findings include:

  • Latin America is the most popular region for NCEA activities. Thirteen of the top 25 destinations were in Latin America. Mexico was the most popular destination among participating students (12 percent), followed by China (7 percent) and Nicaragua (5 percent). Institutions report NCEA activity in 129 countries worldwide.
  • Most reported NCEA students participated in volunteer or service learning activities. Travel seminars or study tours were the second most popular NCEA activity, followed by research or field work, and internships or work abroad and religious missions. Language study was the least popular type of non-credit experience, comprising only 0.3 percent of reported students.
  • NCEA student demographics are similar to U.S. for-credit study abroad demographics. Similar to U.S. for-credit study abroad trends, there was a higher NCEA participation rate among women (46 percent), undergraduates (76 percent), and students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields (28 percent). The race or ethnicity of more than half (56 percent) of the NCEA students was “Unknown.” Among the students who self-identified their race or ethnicity, 71 percent were white, and 10 percent were Hispanic or Latino(a). Both Asian-American and black students groups each represented 4 percent of reported NCEA students. These ratios are similar to the U.S. for-credit study abroad trends in 2013/14; 74 percent were white, 8 percent were Hispanic or Latino(a), 8 percent were Asian-American, and 6 percent were black.
  • Almost half (43 percent) of the reported students pursued NCEA activities during the spring or summer breaks. Mid-semester breaks such as spring break were the second most popular time period (24 percent), followed by during the fall or spring semesters (16%). The winter break was the least popular time period, with just 7 percent of students participating in NCEA activities.
  • Faculty members lead and coordinate most of the captured NCEA activities. Forty-one percent of reported students participated in NCEA activities that were faculty-led or coordinated. Eleven percent of reported students independently arranged their experiences. The reported proportion of NCEA activities arranged by students is particularly low because most higher education institutions do not have reliable procedures or platforms to capture trips that were organized without involvement from the home campus.
  • The total number of students who engage in NCEA activities nationwide is unknown. None of the institutions reported capturing 100 percent of all Non-Credit Education Abroad activities due to the unknown number of students who do not register their NCEA experiences with their home campuses. International insurance enrollment and university grant records were often cited as methods to capture NCEA students who were independently arranging their own experiences. A large number of institutions reported tracking Non-Credit Education Abroad data due to the educational nature of the activities and to create a consistent and centralized health and safety support systems as part of the broader consideration of their risk management policies.

About Generation Study Abroad®

Generation Study Abroad® is a five-year initiative of the Institute of International Education (IIE) to mobilize resources and commitments with the goal of doubling the number of U.S. students studying abroad by the end of the decade. Higher education institutions, study abroad organizations and other partners that have joined the initiative have committed $185 million over the next five years to provide support to students, faculty and programming to expand study abroad opportunities to all over the next five years. More than 600 partners have joined the GSA initiative to date, including 400 U.S. colleges and universities from 48 states as well as higher education institutions and organizations in other countries, education associations, organizations including study abroad, K-12, and social network agencies and 14 country partners. The initiative highlights IIE’s commitment to study abroad and to encouraging purposeful, innovative action to get more Americans to undertake a meaningful international experience through academic study abroad programs, as well as internships, service learning, and non-credit educational experiences.

About the Institute of International Education (IIE)

The Institute of International Education is a world leader in the international exchange of people and ideas. IIE designs and implements programs of study and training for students, educators, young professionals and trainees from all sectors with funding from government agencies, foundations, and corporations. An independent, not-for-profit organization founded in 1919, IIE has a network of 19 offices and affiliates worldwide and over 1,400 member institutions.


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