Rick Steves: Study Abroad a “Necessity”

Long-time writer, television host and all-around travel dork Rick Steves made some unexpected waves last week when he declared that “Study abroad is a necessity, not a luxury” article in a USA Today opinion piece. His opening lines were:

Even in challenging economic times, making sure that study abroad is part of our college students’ education is a vital investment. If we want a new generation of leaders and innovators who can be effective in an ever more globalized world, sending our students overseas is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.

I’d imagine that nearly everyone in international education would support Rick’s general idea here (i.e., that more students should study abroad) – and it’s always nice to have someone come from the outside and  advocate. His op-ed piece was perhaps lacking in spec

ifics and even more so in solutions. In practice, though, students are deterred from study abroad for a host of varied and individualized reasons. What’s holding your students back? I have included the two most common roadblocks to international education in Texas, and possible solutions for reference:

Financial Reasons – Even if the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Act were passed tomorrow, it’s hard to imagine that 2% participation rate rising much above a couple percentage points at most. Dependent on their home institution’s policies, advisors are constrained as to what they cam do. With that said, educating students about scholarship opportunities and advisement on lower-cost programs can help.

Curriculum or Credit Transfer ReasonsUniversities with clearly-articulated policies for study abroad that are well-understood by staff/faculty – not to mention students – are likely to send more abroad. This requires coordination with different parts of campus (Financial Aid, Registrar, VP of Academic/Student Affairs, etc.). Once policies are finalized, your goal is to educate everyone on campus as to what they are – and why it matters.

While one should never rule out top-down institutional change entirely, it’s more likely that participation will grow incrementally and as a direct result of your efforts.