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Principles For Quality Study Abroad Programs

An article in today’s Inside Higher Ed announces a new report from NAFSA-Association of International Education that lays down some principles for managing study abroad programs at colleges and universities. The report does not set up best practices, but it does provide guidelines for senior administrators as they develop and expand opportunities for study abroad. In part, this report is a follow-up to some scandals in the study abroad “industry,” about which I wrote here and here.

This report is important for students and parents, in that it helps to highlight the questions to ask college officials about their programs. For not all study abroad programs are high quality.

Here is what you should be asking:

  1. What is the role of your college’s faculty in developing and overseeing your study abroad programs? Do faculty members from this institution teach the programs themselves?
  2. If the programs are developed and managed by a third party agency, what is that agency, and does that agency have an exclusive arrangement with this college/university?
  3. Can a student arrange his or her own study abroad program with the help and coordination of the study abroad office? How are credits for these programs reviewed and approved?
  4. What is the financial commitment the institution is making to study abroad?
  5. A college may report that x% of student study abroad–but what portion of these students are studying abroad for a semester or more? What percentage are short courses of 2-3 weeks?
  6. Is it possible for majors in ALL departments to study abroad for a semester, or are major requirements in conflict with study abroad offering?
  7. What is the institutional mechanism for reviewing and evaluating study abroad programs, and how often are programs revised?

Study abroad offerings have burgeoned at universities across the United States. But buyers (students) should look beyond the lofty claims of admissions officers to understand the true structure of these programs. Some are great. Others stink. The questions above may help you separate the wheat from the chaff.

Mark Montgomery
Montgomery Educational Consulting

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