Educators seek out more minorities to study abroad

Associated Press | 3/1/2011, 7:10 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — When Sade Adeyina’s college roommate started asking her about studying abroad together, she never thought she could afford a semester in Italy.

Yet the friendly peer pressure — combined with financial aid and timely academic advising — led Adeyina to say “Arrivederci!” to Temple University in Philadelphia and head overseas for the first time.

Educators want more minority students to follow the lead of 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.

But better marketing might help. Instead of touting foreign study as an essential cultural experience, universities could stress it as a path toward self-reliance, independent thinking and valuable job skills, said Augustana College researcher Mark Salisbury.

“Minority students don’t need to seek out cross-cultural experiences by traveling to another country because in most cases — especially as students at majority white postsecondary institutions — they already interact across cultural differences every day,” Salisbury and two co-authors wrote in a study to be published in March by Research in Higher Education.

Congress began to address the disparity with the federally funded Gilman scholarship, which has provided study-abroad funds for federal 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.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin 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.

Simon, the late Illinois lawmaker, had pushed for increased funding for international study after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Only about 1 percent of U.S. undergraduates study abroad.

“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 AandT 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.