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Study Abroad Isn't Just for White Students

Study Abroad Isn't Just for White Students
June 11, 2007

It was all busyness and business as usual at Bardoli Global’s Houston headquarters Tuesday when the small staff of four stopped – albeit for but a second. “You’re in a frenzy doing something all the time but we looked up and said, ‘You realize, some of our kids are gone?’” recalls Anthony Jewett, executive director and CEO of the organization. “We’ve done it.”

With the pride (and relief) of a parent sending his kids off to summer camp for the first time, Jewett speaks of sending the first cohort of the Houston 100 abroad -- and not only to standard study abroad locales like France and Italy, but also to countries like China, Cyprus and Cambodia. Through Bardoli Global, Inc., 70 Houston-area college students and 30 high schoolers of African American, Hispanic American and Native American descent received scholarships for a semester or summer of study abroad, plus admission to an intense pre-departure orientation and post-program leadership institute meant to, as Jewett says, “pound them into social entrepreneurs.”

As a policy paper from the Collaborative for Diversity in Education Abroad – a new group that counts Bardoli Global as one of its three members – points out, even as study abroad participation by American students has more than doubled over the last decade, data from the Institute of International Education and the U.S. Department of Education show that participation rates have been stagnant for African-American, Hispanic and Native American students. Although African-American students, for example, comprise 14 percent of postsecondary student enrollment, they make up only 3.4 percent of study abroad participants.

Overall, students of color comprise only 17 percent of the U.S. study abroad population, according to a May publication on trends in study abroad from IIE: Hispanics represent 5.6 percent of study abroad participants, Asian Americans 6.3 percent, multiracial students 1 percent and Native Americans just 0.4 percent. (Bardoli Global does not include Asian Americans in its scholarship program because it does not characterize them as an underrepresented group in study abroad, Jewett says -- although he adds there’s a raging debate within the organization about disaggregating the participation data, and potentially serving Asian American students representing specific areas within the continent that may be underrepresented still. Some of the other organizations working on behalf of increasing minority participation in study abroad, like the Collaborative for Diversity, do include Asian Americans in their efforts).

Increasingly, universities and other entities working to “diversify study abroad” are realizing that one-dimensional approaches, "like offering programs in Africa for African-American students, or increasing scholarship funds, are insufficient,” says Carl Herrin, director of education abroad initiatives for the Academy for Educational Development. “We’ve picked all the low-hanging fruit in study abroad: the humanities student, the social sciences student, the foreign language student, with means and a cultural orientation toward the world.”

“If you want a more representative group, you have to work hard to get it,” Herrin says. “Not just for a little while: You have to sustain the investment.”

Bardoli Global is one of several young initiatives aimed at increasing study abroad participation by investing in a more multi-dimensional approach. Jewett co-founded the non-profit organization in 2005, which aims to "democratize study abroad" while "hopefully changing the face of America abroad." Much of the program is molded out of Jewett's own experiences: Now 26, Jewett is an African-American Morehouse College graduate from a low-income family who caught the study abroad bug in middle school during a Rotary Club-sponsored class trip to France.

"[The lack of] diversity in study abroad has been a long talked about and lamented problem, but we couldn’t find great enough solutions, action-oriented solutions. My experience studying abroad, from a background that normally wouldn’t, led me to put together a program model of what a student would need to get from college to a study abroad program," Jewett says.

This year's Houston 100 were selected from 277 applicants from a consortium of participating Houston-area high schools and colleges, the colleges being Houston Community College; Prairie View A&M, Rice and Texas Southern Universities and the University of Houston's downtown and central locations.

The selected students participated in a five-session orientation this spring meant to combat particular barriers minority students face when it comes to study abroad: The five "Fs," Jewett says (attributing the term to Johnnetta B. Cole, president of Bennett College for Women): family, faculty, finances, fear and friends. Because they in many cases lack role models or close friends who have gone overseas, the prospect of studying abroad can be particularly daunting to minority students, Jewett says.

To take care of the "finance" component, students board their planes with scholarships provided through private fund raising on Bardoli Global’s part and cost-sharing agreements with five cooperating study abroad entities (AFS Intercultural Programs, Global Leadership Adventures, Knowledge Exchange Institute, Laureate International Universities and the School for International Training). Students on summer programs pay only for their plane tickets and their passport; students on semester programs pay the cost of regular attendance at their home institutions.

Yet, it’s not the trip abroad itself but Bardoli Global’s semester-long leadership institute that Jewett calls “our big bang.” Upon returning this fall and spring, students will work in teams to identify a problem with global dimensions, write a proposal and, using small, $1,000 to $1,500 grants from Bardoli Global, move forward with a solution and all the administrative tasks that go along with enacting said solution. He describes American Youth Understanding Diabetes Abroad, or AYUDA, a diabetes support and advocacy organization founded in the 1990s by two teenagers concerned about the disease in Ecuador, as an ambitious example of the sort of project he’d like to see the students start.

Meanwhile, Jewett has plans to expand his own social entrepreneurship enterprise, with hopes to set up offices in four other cities next year – right now he’s looking at Atlanta, Baltimore/Washington, Los Angeles and Phoenix – and to have 100 participants each year for all four cities, plus Houston, by 2009. By 2011, he wants to start establishing a program to send middle school students abroad, and he aims to serve 15,000 total students by 2018.

On a national level, the goal is to move from about 200,000 to a million undergraduates studying abroad annually within 10 years, this ambitious objective put forward by the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act, a measure that would create a public-private partnership to administer a national study abroad program. The legislation, which focuses particularly on broadening the group of students involved and increasing opportunities for study in the developing world, passed the House of Representatives last week.

All this renewed attention to increasing study abroad participation in general has refocused attention on access for all, says Herrin of the Academy for Educational Development. Concerns about diversifying the student population studying abroad were high in the 1980s, when advocates quite significantly succeeded in securing Title IV financial aid funding for education abroad, but leveled off a bit, he says, until recently, as worries about American competitiveness and a flat, flat world have risen to fever pitch.

“A lot of these students have never left their home country; they’ve never been on an airplane before. That’s the level we’re working on,” says LaNitra Walker Berger, senior manager of research and policy at the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, an association of historically black colleges and universities that recently joined with Bardoli Global and the Phelps Stokes Fund to form the Collaborative for Diversity in Education Abroad. Right now, Berger says, the collaborative is searching out its niche, figuring out what resources it can bring to best benefit the cause. Although the group does have some small-scale, more immediate plans in the works as well, Berger says, including the development of a directory of study abroad directors at minority serving institutions, with the goal of promoting greater communication between program providers and college study abroad offices.

Other initiatives just getting off the ground include two Web resources that the Center for Global Education’s Project for Learning Abroad, Training and Outreach (PLATO) launched last month. The two Web sites, now available in test versions, provide resources for parents, students and college staff. One site, www.globalscholar.us, offers an online curriculum guiding students through the entire process from pre-departure through return, while the other, www.allabroad.us, focuses specifically on increasing outreach to a diverse group of students, offering information to students and parents about funding, planning and common concerns -- including discrimination.

The All Abroad site also provides outreach materials, including sample PowerPoint presentations and posters, to assist faculty and staff working in international education. “The greatest needs are at the institutions with the least resources," says Gary Rhodes, director of the Center for Global Education, based at Loyola Marymount University. (And it's worth noting that institutions with fewer resources, including community colleges, often serve larger numbers of minority students than their wealthier peers).

Also operating in the online arena is another 20-something social entrepreneur with study abroad in his blood: Andrew Gordon, a 27-year-old who founded the DiversityAbroad.com Web site as a tool for students, is revving to ramp up his operations with a tour to “pump study abroad” for minority students at 45 campuses next year, half of which are historically black universities or Hispanic serving institutions. Gordon also serves as the executive director of a new scholarship-granting Diversity Abroad Foundation, and will be redeveloping the Web site this summer, he says, to open up more social networking opportunities.

Meanwhile, the Academy for Educational Development, which held a colloquium on this subject last year, expects to develop a student-centered online clearinghouse of resources, mobilize a group of young minority professionals who studied abroad to serve as a recruiting corps, and develop a recognition program for colleges that have been successful in increasing study abroad participation among minorities, Herrin says.

“It’s early to know exactly what institution is going to find a successful model,” says Herrin. “But this is a responsibility that cuts across the full range of institutions.”

 

 

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