Southern has pledged to join the Institute of International Education (IIE)’s Generation Study Abroad initiative to double the number of American students who study abroad by the end of the decade. The initiative is also focusing on increasing the diversity of the students who study abroad, ensuring quality, and removing barriers to participation.
Southern has actually committed to doubling the number of students who study abroad over the next five years. Erin Heidkamp, director of the Office of International Education (OIE), says that to achieve that goal, “We would love to see every single academic program at Southern include some type of study, intern, volunteer, or work abroad experience as an option within the curriculum. Despite our best efforts, not all Southern students will be able to take part in study abroad. Identifying this experience as one curricular option for students, however, acknowledges the tremendous value of the experience while honoring the challenges and/or responsibilities that make it impossible for other students to participate.”
Currently, 150-200 Southern students go abroad every year, their destinations ranging from Botswana to Belgium. The university is able to send students to more than 300 prestigious host institutions worldwide and currently offers 10 faculty-led programs administered by the university, but also affiliates with International Student Exchange Programs (ISEP) as well as 14 sister institutions in Spain, France, Germany, England, Vietnam, and China. An increasing number of Southern students apply for and receive Gilman, Rotary Foundation, ISEP, AIFS, and other scholarships to study abroad, and almost all eligible financial aid recipients apply their aid and/or scholarship funding to their study abroad experience.
IIE’s Generation Study Abroad initiative, launched in spring 2014, now has over 300 commitments. The partners who have joined to date include: U.S. colleges and universities from 46 states; non-U.S. institutions; education associations; study abroad organizations; U.S. and foreign government entities, including the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Recognizing the importance of an internationally focused workforce, IIE is also actively seeking the participation of corporations and the business community.
“At Southern, we strive to give our students every opportunity to acquire a first-class education with a global vision,” says President Mary A. Papazian. “We are part of a global marketplace, and the international opportunities we offer enable our students to flourish in an increasingly connected world. Study abroad instills in our students the ability to think outside themselves and the desire to play a meaningful role in the world community.”
Heidkamp agrees. “Generation Study Abroad is an incredibly timely initiative for Southern,” she says, “particularly considering the critical roles of diversity, student access, and globalization in our Strategic Plan. This initiative is about increasing student and faculty awareness of opportunities that currently exist abroad. It is also about identifying ways our students can seize these opportunities, considering the various challenges they must often overcome to spend two weeks, two months, a semester, or perhaps even a year abroad.”
IIE launched Generation Study Abroad because the number and proportion of today’s students who graduate with an educational experience abroad is far too low. Currently, fewer than 10 percent of all U.S. college students study abroad at some point in their academic career. With 2.6 million students graduating with associate or baccalaureate degrees each year, it is clear that major segments of America’s young people are not getting the international experience they will need to advance their careers and participate in the global economy, or to work together across borders to address global issues. Commitment partners are working to ensure that students from all backgrounds and in all fields of study have the opportunity to gain this important experience. As Heidkamp says, “Study abroad as a peripheral activity – a ‘side dish’ – is becoming a thing of the past. Undergraduate, and in many cases, graduate degrees carry considerably more value when a study abroad experience has contributed to the student’s education as a whole.”