Research on US Education Abroad: A Concise Overview

Research on US Education Abroad: A Concise Overview

Anthony C. Ogden (Michigan State University, USA) and Bernhard Streitwieser (The George Washington University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0169-5.ch001
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This chapter provides a concise overview of research in the area of United States (US) education abroad, beginning with a brief discussion of the changing role of US Higher Education (HE) and the ever-increasing momentum toward assessing and documenting outcomes. This is followed by a brief overview of the major trends in contemporary education abroad research in the US, with particular emphasis on research in short-term programming, and an assessment of the major methodological and design challenges. Because of their importance to education abroad and HE research, brief attention is given to the major theoretical models that have traditionally informed education abroad research in the US and the conceptual frameworks from related disciplines that may further extend education abroad research. Commonly used instruments are discussed in context of measuring outcomes. Some notable gaps in the existing research and needed directions are also discussed.
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Higher Education (HE) in the United States (US) is increasingly being challenged to justify its value and quality to a variety of stakeholders, from families paying tuition, university administrators setting policies, to federal and state legislators determining budgets. Pressure on HE providers to furnish convincing evidence that demonstrates that students are gaining essential knowledge and skills from their time spent in college has grown over time. As a result, HE Institutions (HEIs) have begun to direct more attention to documenting practices that effectively maximize student learning. With this increasing attention to assessing student learning has come growing interest in understanding and documenting what students learn through education abroad programming (Bolen, 2007; Gray, Murdock, & Stebbins, 2002; Vande Berg, Connor-Linton, & Paige, 2009; Steinberg, 2007; Talburt & Stewart, 1999). US education abroad enrollments have steadily increased since the mid-1990s, from under 100,000 in 1996-1997 to over 280,000 in 2011-2012 (IIE, 2014).

As educators grapple with pressure(s) to accommodate this growth while striving to ensure quality, observers have become more vocal in their calls for less reliance on superficial program evaluations, mere tabulation of participation figures, or anecdotal accounts as ‘evidence’ for meaningful education abroad. Rather, key stakeholders are calling for more rigorous program assessment and deeper research that will provide a clearer understanding of the totality of the education abroad experience (Bolen, 2007; Engle & Engle, 2003; Poole & Davis, 2006; McLeod & Wainright, 2009; Stearns, 2009; Stimpfel & Engberg, 1997; Teagle Foundation, 2006). In this environment of greater accountability, it is no longer enough to claim that education abroad is a good thing for students without offering specific evidence to support such assertions (Gray, Murdock, & Stebbins, 2002; Grünzweig & Rinehart, 2002; Hoffa & DePaul, 2010).

Education abroad professionals are thus being asked with greater frequency to supply evidence of student learning. In recent years, however, there have been little outcomes assessment research beyond a smattering of studies looking at language proficiency and changes in attitudes and career goals (Kraft, Ballantine, & Garvey, 1994). Like others in HE, international educators need to justify the value of their efforts, but have been hindered by the general lack of valid and reliable data needed to respond to the rising barrage of questions. Research specifically focused on education abroad began to emerge during the 1950s, but it was not until the end of the 1970s that a respectable literature base and focus began to form (Chao, 2001; Comp, 2005; Weaver, 1989). During the 1970s, 189 research studies were published and the number increased to 675 by the 1990s. In the current decade, the number of published studies will likely exceed 1,000 (Comp et al., 2007; Vande Berg, Paige, & Lou, 2012).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Consortia: A group of institutions and/or organizations that share one or more education abroad programs within a membership group in order to provide greater access, quality control, and/or cost efficiency in education abroad programs to students.

Student Exchange: A reciprocal agreement whose participants are students. This may include bilateral exchanges and multilateral exchanges. Exchanges allow students to trade places with students at partner institutions abroad.

Faculty-Directed Program: An education abroad program directed by a faculty member (or members) from the home campus who accompanies students abroad.

Pell Grant: Created by the US Higher Education Act of 1965 and now sponsored by the US Department of Education, the Pell Grant is money the US Federal Government provides for students with financial need to attend HE. A Pell Grant is generally considered the foundation of a student’s financial aid package, and unlike loans, need not be repaid.

Program Provider: An institution or organization that offers education abroad program services to students from a variety of institutions. A program provider may be a college or university, a non-profit organization, a for-profit business, or a consortium.

Open Doors: Compiled by the Institute for International Education (IIE), the Open Doors report is the annual statistical survey of international student and scholar flows to and from the US.

Underrepresentation: Categories of students who study abroad in fewer numbers than they represent at their home institution. Underrepresented populations may include ethnicity, gender, discipline of study, first generation etc. The term is often used erroneously to refer to diversity issues.

Direct Enrollment: Study at an international institution in which students enroll directly facilitated by the host institution.

Education Abroad: Education that occurs outside the participant’s home country. Education Abroad can includes study abroad, research abroad, intern abroad, service-learning abroad, teach abroad and other program modes as long as these programs are driven to a significant degree by learning goals.

Curriculum Integration: Incorporating coursework taken abroad into the academic context of the home campus. It involves weaving education abroad into the on-campus curriculum through activities such as course matching, academic advising, departmental and collegiate informational and advising materials.

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