Educators Seek Out More Minorities to Study Abroad

Kathy Matheson, Comcast News, February 21, 2011

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Educators want more minority students to follow the lead of [Sade] Adeyina, an African-American graphic design major. Foreign study is seen as crucial to student development and even as a key to national security, yet minority participation badly lags their overall presence on college campuses.

“It’s really a matter of persuading young students of color that this is possible for them and this is necessary for them,” said Peggy Blumenthal, executive vice president of the Institute of International Education. “You come back changed, more self-confident.”

About 81 percent of study-abroad students are white, although whites represent 63 percent of enrollment in higher education, according to 2008-09 data released in November by the New York-based institute.

Blacks comprise 4.2 percent of study-abroad students but are 13.5 percent of the college population. Latinos are 6 percent of study-abroad participants but nearly 12 percent of higher ed students. Asian-Americans, representing 6.8 percent of college students, are slightly overrepresented in study abroad at 7.3 percent.

Barriers often include lack of funds, fear of racism, worries about delayed graduation, and few role models–either family or faculty–who have traveled abroad.

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Congress began to address the disparity with the federally funded Gilman scholarship, which has provided study-abroad funds for low-income Pell Grant recipients since 2001. About 55 percent of last year’s Gilman scholars were minorities, according to the Institute of International Education, which administers the program.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., wants to expand foreign learning opportunities overall with a bill to create the $80 million Sen. Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation, a public-private entity that would award grants to students and institutions.

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“Expanding study abroad should be a national priority,” Durbin said in 2009 while re-introducing the legislation, which has yet to win full congressional approval. “The future of the country depends on globally literate citizens who are at ease in the world.”

In January, North Carolina A&T State University began working with the American Council on Education to promote international learning at historically black institutions, a project partly funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

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Among the efforts at A&T is a new annual $10 student fee to create an international education fund that offsets study abroad expenses. {snip}

At Temple, about 9 percent of students in the study-abroad program are black, more than double the national average. About 11 percent are Asian, also above average, while the 5 percent Hispanic involvement is slightly below the norm.

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