Webster University is making an effort to double the study abroad enrollment of U.S. students with the goal of sending 500 students abroad a year by 2020.
The Office of Study Abroad sent 270 students in 2015. According to the Open Doors Report by Institute of International Education (IIE), only 313,415 U.S. students (excluding international students), or about 10 percent of all U.S. undergraduate students, studied abroad in the 2014-15 academic year. In the same academic year, 974,926 international students studied in the U.S. For students pursuing a Bachelor’s degree, approximately 15 percent studied abroad before graduation.
At Webster, the same number is 23 percent, about 270 students, which is the highest in recent years.
“It is better comparing with the 15 percent, but we are Webster, we should do better,” Guillermo Rodriguez, director of Study Abroad and International Projects, said.
The Office of Study Abroad is actively cooperating with Academic Advising and other departments to guide new students planning to study abroad from the beginning of their time at Webster, because course schedules for freshmen or sophomores can be more flexible.
Based on reports by the Office of Study Abroad, Rodriguez said about 70 percent of students coming to Webster were attracted by the study abroad programs and global campuses, but only about 20 percent students actually went by the time they graduate.
“What else we can do in order to not only promote the opportunities to students, but also make students see the value of going abroad?” Rodriguez said. “That’s the challenge.”
Vice Provost Nancy Hellerud said aiming to double study abroad enrollment aligns with Webster’s own strategic plan to be a leader in global education and to help provide a global student-centered experience.
“Our mission is to provide high quality learning experiences that transform students for global citizenship and individual excellence,” Hellerud said.
Rodriguez said the study abroad experience, itself, may not necessarily be attractive to employers, but the skills students developed from the experience will.
Rodriguez noticed that the main barriers for students not to study abroad are cost, curriculum schedule options and personal commitment, which includes working plan and student clubs or organizations.
Jenna Rodriguez is a special education freshman actively seeking opportunity to study abroad in Africa. She came to Webster for study abroad opportunities, but education classes are not offered in any other campuses. She is also a volleyball athlete and would rather not sacrifice her game seasons in fall semesters. These limit her options to summer terms and elective courses.
Currently, students who study abroad can take advantage of the Webster World Traveler Program, which offers the student one free round trip ticket. There are also various kinds of internal and external scholarships students can apply for.
“That’s Webster trying to lower the barrier for students to study abroad,” Jenna Rodriguez said.
According to the Open Doors Report from IIE, more than 60 percent of students spend eight weeks or less studying abroad, and about 30 percent spend one term or one semester abroad. The situation at Webster is reversed, with more students spending one term or one semester abroad.
“We believe [for the study abroad duration] the longer, the better, because of the immersion,” Guillermo Rodriguez said. “Involvement experiences are very important.”
The Institute of International Education (IIE) spearheaded a five-year Generation Study Abroad initiative in 2014 to mobilize resources and commitments. IIE is also investing $2 million in the initiative. The goal is to have 600,000 U.S. students studying abroad in credit-bearing and non-credit programs by 2020. IIE is seeking to identify at least 500 U.S. universities that are committed to increase their study abroad participation rates. Webster joined as one of the first 156 commitment partners in October 2015.
“As a university that has long valued and promoted study abroad as an important way to develop as a global citizen, we were excited to be part of the national conversation about the importance of study abroad and the national effort to increase the number of U.S. students studying abroad,” Hellerud said. “Generation Study Abroad makes us part of a like-mind group of universities working for the same goal.”