IIE Study Shows That Studying Abroad Has a Direct Impact on Skills Needed for Career Success

Education Abroad Leads to Significant Gains in 11 of 15 critical 21st Century Workplace Skills

WASHINGTON, DC, October 2, 2017—IIE today announced a new study that demonstrates links between international educational experience and the critical skills needed for employment in today’s workforce. The study shows that studying abroad for longer periods of time has a high impact on subsequent job offers and career advancement as well as the development of foreign language and communication skills.

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Among alumni who studied abroad for one academic year, 68 percent reported studying abroad contributing to a job offer or promotion, compared to just 43 percent of alumni who studied abroad for fewer than eight weeks. At the same time, stronger gains in teamwork skills were reported by students who took part in short term programs, which tend to be more structured and team oriented than longer term programs where students might pursue more independent experiences.

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IIE’s study, Gaining an Employment Edge: The Impact of Study Abroad on 21st Century Skills & Career Prospects, investigates the connection between study abroad programs and the development of skills that contribute to employment and career development in today’s workforce. The study was released at the IIE Summit on Generation Study Abroad in Washington, DC on October 2, and the full report can be downloaded at www.iie.org/employability.

For the study, IIE developed a specific list of 15 soft and hard skills drawn from competencies identified as being most desired by 21st century employers, and explored their link to study abroad. Based on survey responses from more than 4,500 U.S. college and university alumni at various stages of their careers, as well as in-depth interviews, IIE reports that study abroad contributes to the development of transferrable skills and positive employment gains, with the impact varying according to program characteristics, study destinations, and the students’ goals. The survey looked at what specific features of study abroad programs contribute to career success, in order to help educators better develop programs that prepare students for the global workforce.

STEM majors highly value the gains made in skills outside of their majors during study abroad. Among science majors that went on a program outside of the sciences, 47 percent reported their study abroad contributed to a job offer, whereas among those who went on a science focused experience, only 28 percent reported it contributed to a job offer. STEM majors described academic programs at home as more insular and viewed study abroad as an opportunity to gain “soft” skills that others in their field lack.

More than half of survey respondents reported that they believe their study abroad experience contributed to a job offer at some point. Among interviewees who were not sure or who did not believe that studying abroad contributed to a job offer, most still believe that the skills gained through study abroad had proven relevant and useful throughout their careers, particularly as they were promoted to management-level positions where communication, interpersonal skills, and the ability to understand and work with difference were key criteria for promotion. Those more advanced in their careers more consistently linked study abroad to career growth and reported being hired or promoted based on skills developed through international experience. Several respondents also indicated that study abroad opened career pathways and opportunities they had not previously considered.

“In today’s globally interconnected economy, most students will develop careers where they work for or do business with international companies,” said Allan Goodman, IIE president. “Our goal is to help educators and employers better understand the specific links between study abroad and career skills, to advance their mutual interest in developing global talent. Alumni report that the skills gained through study abroad can be powerful tools for long term career success.”

Studying abroad has a positive impact on the development of a range of skills needed to thrive in today’s interconnected world, with 60 percent or more reporting positive skill gains in 14 of the 15 career skills surveyed, and significant gains in 11 of the 15 skills surveyed. The top five skills, with more than 70 percent of respondents saying their study abroad experience contributed to a significant degree of improvement, were: intercultural skills, curiosity, flexibility/adaptability, confidence, and self-awareness. In addition, more than 50 percent noted significant gains in interpersonal and problem solving skills. The only skill that was not significantly developed or improved by studying abroad was technical or software skills, with respondents largely noting that these skills were mostly developed through the academic programs on their home campus and were not a focus of their study abroad programs.

With U.S. higher education increasingly focused on preparing U.S. students to secure jobs after graduation in order to ensure their own economic well-being and to contribute to the economic development of their communities, states, and country, this study has implications for students, educators, and employers. Study abroad has become a key indicator of engaged learning, and IIE’s research provides insight that will help guide students considering study abroad opportunities and career paths, as well as higher education staff and faculty implementing study abroad programs and employers in all fields looking for well-equipped candidates. The report includes recommendations for educators.

About the Study

The survey was administered to alumni of study abroad programs from U.S. higher education institutions who participated in a study abroad program from 1999/2000 onward. This timeframe was selected to focus the research on modern-day employment skills. To reach a broad respondent pool, IIE partnered with six leading education associations and study abroad organizations to distribute the online survey: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS), Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), IES Abroad, International Student Exchange Programs (ISEP), and National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). The survey was distributed widely from April through June 2017 to study abroad alumni, organizations and higher education institutions throughout the United States and was promoted through social media and other online platforms. A total of 4,565 valid survey responses were received and included in the descriptive statistical analysis.

For the qualitative component of the study, thirty individuals were selected from among the survey respondents who volunteered to participate in a follow-up interview. Interview participants were selected to reflect a broad diversity of respondents by study abroad type, personal characteristics, and career profile. One-hour telephone interviews were conducted in July and August 2017 and were recorded and transcribed for coding and analysis.

About the Institute of International Education

The Institute of International Education (IIE) works with policymakers, educators and employers across the globe to prepare students and professionals for the global workforce and equip them to solve the increasingly complex challenges facing our interconnected world. An independent, not-for-profit organization founded in 1919, IIE has a network of 18 offices and affiliates worldwide, and over 1,300 member institutions. Since its founding, IIE has established itself as a world leader in conducting longitudinal research on the global mobility trends of international students.

Give to IIE’s Generation Study Abroad Scholarship Fund

Note to Editors:

Reporters are invited to attend a discussion on this topic at the IIE Summit on Generation Study Abroad in Washington, DC on October 2, led by IIE researcher and report author Christine Farrugia. Advance interviews are available upon request.


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