Development and Maintenance of Quality Study Abroad Options

It is important to understand international education best practices as you make decisions about which study abroad options your office will promote, support, approve, and/or affiliate with. What are the priorities of your institution and how do those priorities fit with various study abroad options? In the same way your institution allows students to choose their major and a variety of academic avenues to earn a diploma, it is also necessary to encourage a variety of study abroad options for students. There is not one “ideal” study abroad program or type. Think of it as providing a “portfolio” of options for students to choose from. Different types of programs will produce different outcomes. Things to consider when reviewing/ promoting programs:

– Length of program
– Geographic location
– Language of host country
– Academic standards and structure
– Academic curriculum choices
– Immersion in host culture
– Interactions with locals
– Housing
– Safety and emergency services
– Orientation services
– Utilization of host country resources
– On-site staff
– Cost

There are currently no “certified” or “accredited” study abroad programs per se. The Forum on Education Abroad is a professional organization authorized to establish “best practices” that will distinguish programs that operate on the highest standards? Familiarize yourself with these standards and ask program directors and/or providers how they measure up to best practices for responsible study abroad programs.

Just as there is not one ideal location for a study abroad experience, there is also not one ideal structure for a study abroad program. There is a time and a place for various types of structures in developing various student outcomes. If the priority of your institution is to promote and develop foreign language proficiency, then it goes without saying that you would not limit your students’ options to programs in the U.K., neither would you put much of your efforts into short-term faculty-led programs study abroad Nigeria.

It is crucial to determine the appropriate methodology to produce the intended outcomes. There are valuable and consequential learning outcomes from a two-week international experience, however, a two-week experience cannot be considered an appropriate methodology for developing an adequate level of intercultural competency. Thus, the type of program should be appropriate for the intended outcomes.

Unfortunately, some institutions operating without explicit intended outcomes can look to the “number of study abroad enrollments/participants” as their measure of success. However, the “number of study abroad enrollments/participants” does not indicate the quality, relevance, or learning outcomes of the international experience. Even with the best of intentions, it is actually possible to generate learning outcomes that initiate and/or reinforce negative stereotypes and enhance discomfort of intercultural interactions if programs are not developed and facilitated appropriately.

As education abroad enters the arena of public scrutiny and administrative importance, institutions are being compared and ranked.

Unfortunately, to date, measures are limited to comparing mere headcounts. And thus, there is a threat that number crunchers will emphasize volume at the expense of quality. It may be necessary to remind someone that just as universities are not ranked by U.S. News and World Report by enrollments alone, similarly schools should not be ranked in international education by enrollments alone.

Quality of education is measured by relevant and measurable intended outcomes. Similar and appropriate measures of quality should be applied to education abroad.

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