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Standards for Short-Term Study Abroad

January 30, 2009

Short-term study abroad has grown rapidly in recent years, with 55.4 percent of Americans studying in other countries now doing so on programs of two to eight weeks in length, according to the latest figures from the Institute of International Education. Such programs have their own specific challenges in terms of administration and education, and a new set of standards from the Forum on Education Abroad aims to address them.

“While some short-term programs are well-established and repeated regularly, others are ad hoc ventures that are designed and led by faculty members, campus internship and volunteer offices, or others who may have little or no experience with the standards for designing and managing education aboard programs,” states the introduction to the standards, released today and freely available on the Forum's Web site. “Because of the brevity of short-term programs, it is all the more important for program organizers to learn from experienced study abroad administrators so that the programs they develop maximize student learning opportunities and make every moment count.”

"As with the Standards of Good Practice for Education Abroad, these short-term program standards are balanced in that they provide guidelines on the one hand, and respect the unique education abroad missions and goals that particular institutions have," explained Brian Whalen, president and CEO of the Forum. "The short-term program standards are intended to be used as a means to assess and improve short-term programs. The standards provide guidance without dictating specific ways that organizations or institutions should meet the standards."

The standards are meant to be considered in concert with more general standards promulgated by the forum (which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission as a standards development organization). They're subdivided into nine categories -- an example from each is included below.

  • Mission, Objectives and Purpose. Example -- "Appropriateness: The focus of the program is appropriate to the site chosen."
  • Student Learning and Development. Example -- "Learning Outcomes: The program fosters discipline-specific and/or interdisciplinary learning outcomes appropriate to the curriculum, site, and program goals."
  • Academic Framework. Example -- "Length: The length of the program is appropriate to the amount of credit granted." (Institutions vary a great deal in how much credit they award for short-term programs.)
  • Extra-Academic Framework. Example -- “For programs involving extensive travel … faculty and program sponsors should consider carefully the number of sites proposed to visit, their geographical proximity to each other and the time spent traveling between them. More emphasis should be given to having full, in-depth experiences at each site rather than on ‘seeing everything' by visiting multiple sites and spending only short amounts of time on each site.”
  • Preparation for the Learning Environment Abroad. Example -- "Returning Student Support: The home institution and/or the program provide support for students returning from abroad."
  • Student Selection and Code of Conduct. Example -- "Affordability: The program seeks to keep the program affordable for the greatest number of students."
  • Organizational and Program Resources. Example -- “Training: Academic and Administrative personnel have appropriate training in the areas of health, safety, and security; student affairs; disciplinary procedures; academic advising; and operating in the host environment." ("Many organizations and institutions have excellent training programs in place for faculty and administrators involved in short-term programs," said Whalen. "However, it can be an area that is overlooked, especially at institutions where programs are not overseen centrally.")
  • Health, Safety, and Security. Example -- "Health: The program leadership is aware of student health issues prior to departure and is well prepared to handle student, faculty, and staff health issues that may arise."
  • Ethics and Integrity. Example -- "Cultural Sensitivity: The program acts with sensitivity to and respect for differences between local cultural norms and those of the home culture."

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