Creating Capacity in Study Abroad

For-profit provider builds network of "independent branch campuses" overseas to try to reach a different kind of student -- and a slew of them at that.
January 2, 2008

Against the backdrop of a national goal to more than quadruple the number of American undergraduates studying abroad to a million by 2016-17, Cultural Experiences Abroad, a for-profit study abroad provider, has been building a network of study centers best described as independent branch campuses. Once all 12 are fully operational -- six are open now -- it's expected that the GlobalCampus Centers combined could accommodate up to 20,000 students a year, assuming every seat were filled every summer, winter and fall. For comparison’s sake, consider that in 2005-6, 223,534 American students studied abroad in all.

“At the moment we don’t have the capacity” to handle the desired increase of study abroad students through direct enrollments at foreign universities, Geoffrey Bannister, CEA’s president, said of the study abroad industry's need for greater capacity and the part he sees the GlobalCampus Network as playing in helping to fulfill this need. Plus, he added, in order to reach the million student goal, “We need to be able to reach a different sort of student” beyond the traditional study abroad student (the female humanities major from a small liberal arts college).

“Our goal is to reach more males, more professional students, more students from less wealthy institutions,” said Bannister.

CEA is currently operating centers in Barcelona, Florence, Madrid, Paris, Seville and Rome. Bannister expects six more -- two in Latin America, one in China, one in Eastern Europe, one in Australia, and one in the United Kingdom -- to open over the next three years. Bannister said about 540 students will study at the Barcelona center, the first to open back in 2006, in the upcoming semester, while the other centers each have enrollments of about 100. Bannister expects to cap enrollment at the centers at around 600 students.

The centers offer traditional courses in the culture and language of the host country, but also in international business and issues of globalization more generally. At each location, CEA maintains relationships with two to four local institutions so that an engineering student, for instance, could take three courses at the GlobalCampus center and an advanced engineering course at the University of Barcelona. “If we don’t provide access to these specialized courses, they won’t be able to get abroad at all,” said Bannister, who was formerly president of Butler University in Indianapolis and the Forum on Education Abroad, an organization that promotes a set of standards of good practice for study abroad programs.

The University of New Haven provides academic oversight for the GlobalCampus programs. “We’re considered the university of record,” said Jane Sangeloty, assistant dean of the University College at New Haven. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges approved the agreement with CEA, signed about a year ago, Sangeloty said, clearing the way for faculty to review the course offerings and faculty and staff appointments at the centers. Students at two centers will receive New Haven transcripts this spring; the long-term plan, Sangeloty said, is that all GlobalCampus center students will. The bulk of students enroll in the programs by approaching and paying CEA directly, which in turn enrolls students through New Haven so they can receive New Haven transcripts, Bannister said. In turn, New Haven receives a fee per student it provides a transcript for, Sangeloty said (she declined to share the size of the fee).

A large number of CEA's students are coming from the Big 10 universities, Bannister said, including the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Rob Howell, director of international academic programs and a professor of German at Wisconsin, said that the university does not have a relationship with CEA. But about 300 Wisconsin students do attend non-university programs each year, he said, with about 70 of those heading to Barcelona -- where Wisconsin doesn’t offer any of its own programs because Spanish faculty would prefer that students not study in a Catalan-speaking city. “Undoubtedly we have students who go on [CEA programs], but they’re not programs we promote,” Howell said.

“In the end, it’s not necessarily my favorite model, to have for example 600 non-Spanish students, or American students, together in some site abroad,” said Howell -- who also questioned whether there really is a need to build up study abroad capacity “in Florence or Barcelona, let’s say, which are cities that are kind of overrun by Americans anyhow.” (“You also don’t want to, just from an ecological perspective, essentially turn a given site into a large ghetto of American students because then you’re working at cross-purposes with yourself," he said.)

“I’m more enthused about our students having more direct contact with students and faculty from the host culture. But I also understand that for a certain segment of the student population this might be the right kind of program. It might allow them to study abroad when they otherwise could not have,” Howell said.

Anne Seitzinger, director of the study abroad office at Northern Illinois University -- one of about 150 universities affiliated with CEA -- agreed that a potential pitfall of the GlobalCampus centers is that their structure could limit cultural immersion. But she said that she thinks CEA is well-aware of that hazard and does a good job of offering cultural opportunities. When another Northern Illinois study abroad office staff member visited the Florence and Rome GlobalCampus centers this summer, she was able to participate alongside the students in several cultural experiences incorporated into the programs, Seitzinger said.

“They’re very innovative in their perception of study abroad and meeting the needs of the students,” Seitzinger said. “We’ve got students in the health sciences, technical areas. They’re looking for programs and I see CEA as interested in meeting their needs as well.”


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