Although the findings of the recently released Open Doors report indicate that a record number of US students studied abroad in the 2012-2013 academic year, they also reveal several interesting trends about that cohort. Not only do fewer than ten percent – 9.4% to be exact – of all US students study abroad during their undergraduate studies, nearly 6 of the 10 who did go abroad, went for a short-term (e.g., summer) programs lasting eight weeks or less. Just a third – 35.4% – studied abroad for a semester while a mere 3.3% percent went abroad for an entire academic year.
These low levels of long-term study abroad participation, some experts believe, are best attributed to the lack of funding available for such programs. Though student interest is high, the relative lack of external funding support as compared to other developed economies (most students rely on personal savings and study abroad student loans) doubtless contributes the relative brevity of current participation.
The profile of those that do participate, however, is revealing. While the average US study abroad student continues to be a white female pursuing a social science (e.g., international relations and linguistics) degree, the number of students participating in historically uninvolved disciplines increased sharply. For example, more than a fifth of all study abroad students – 20.5% – were business majors. At the same time, though the Physical/Life Science and Engineering majors contributed less students overall, they saw marked year-on-year increases (of 12.8% and 16.3% respectively). This suggests that the long-standing vision of organizations dedicated to the promotion of international exchange is slowly but surely being realized. Students, like their expectant employers, are waking up to the importance of study abroad experience – all that is left is to figure out how to pay for it.