“The profile of U.S. study abroad is changing. Today a more diverse range of students are studying in more destinations and through innovative programs that fall outside of the traditional model. Being aware of these trends can help us understand what motivates students to go abroad so we can encourage and support them. By beginning the exploration of other countries in elementary school, we build on students‘ natural curiosity about the world around them. Short-term high school experiences abroad can seed interest in longer, more in-depth study at the postsecondary level. Christine A. Farrugia, Senior Research Officer, Institute of International Education, shares some of the latest trends and her advice.
By guest blogger Christine A. Farrugia
According to Open Doors,®* 289,408 U.S. higher education students studied abroad from their home institution in 2012/13, an increase of 2 percent over the previous year, and continuing a trend of slow growth (between 1 to 3 percent per year). The high school rate of study abroad remains steady at less than 1 percent. However, against this backdrop of slow growth, there are pockets of strong growth among certain students and in certain destinations and types of programs.
New Students: STEM majors are the fastest growing group
At the higher ed level, students majoring in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are driving the growth in U.S. study abroad. For the first time ever, STEM majors outnumber study abroad students in other major fields: In 2012/13, they accounted for 23 percent of study abroad students, followed by students majoring in social sciences (22 percent) and business (20 percent).
Over the past fifteen years, study abroad by STEM majors has grown substantially, outpacing growth in other fields. Contributing to this growth is an increasing awareness by students and faculty advisers of the career-related benefits of global experiences, as well as increased efforts by STEM programs to provide more flexible requirements and short-term study abroad options that can be easily integrated into tightly structured STEM curricula.
This growth is likely to continue as more U.S. students are projected to major in STEM fields. This means that study abroad programs will need to provide more options that align with the structured curricula of STEM programs, including engineering courses abroad taught in English.
New Destinations: Asia and Latin America are rising
Asia and Latin America are the new hot spots for U.S. postsecondary students studying overseas. While over half of these students head to Europe, growth in study abroad in Asia increased by 23 percent and in Latin America increased by 13 percent.
Student interest in studying in Asia has increased along with the region’s economic rise. China rose to the fifth leading study abroad destination for U.S. postsecondary students in 2006/07 and has held that position every year since. Initiatives such as 100,000 Strong in China have increased the number of U.S. students (K-12 and postsecondary) in China by promoting it as a destination for study abroad, as well as student research, internships, language study, study tours, and other forms of non-credit education. But Asia’s popularity among U.S. students is not just about China. Japan, India, and South Korea are also among the top 20 destinations for U.S. students. . . . .