New Study Abroad Population

Small community colleges consider study abroad programs to retain students and offer something different.

April 20, 2016

CHICAGO -- There’s pressure among community colleges to maintain their enrollments as well as retain students and find unique ways to get them to completion.

A few two-year institutions have been promoting study abroad for years, but others are now considering these types of programs as a way to help boost their students’ experiences.

The College Year in Athens program has existed for more than 50 years but only in four-year colleges and universities. The program is now expanding to community colleges, starting at Northwestern Michigan Community College. CYA appeared in Chicago at the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual conference.

“The business world today is a global market. It looks great for [students] to have a global experience. It helps them stand out and makes them more well-rounded,” said Emily Arbut, senior campus relations representative for College Year in Athens. “We’re a small program and we’re used to working with small colleges.”

CYA sits down with faculty leaders and college administrators to craft the type of study abroad program that best meets the students’ and institution’s needs. That includes helping establish learning objectives, in addition to travel, and providing housing and facilities for students and faculty in Greece.

“This isn’t a vacation for your students. We want them learning,” Arbut said, adding that every day of the trip is a combination of on-site visits and classroom time.

But recognizing that community colleges are working on getting students to complete a diploma, certificate or transfer, CYA is allowing colleges to create study abroad programs that last a couple of weeks or a semester, Arbut said. That short-term study abroad trip fits community college students, who often are nontraditional, working full- or part-time jobs, or taking care of families.

CYA estimates that a 13-day trip to Athens would cost up to $1,750 per student, for a minimum 15 students. That fee would include one faculty member, accommodations in CYA housing, one meal a day and regional housing. It doesn’t include airfare, which could cost up to $1,300 from the U.S. CYA offers scholarships for students, but colleges are expected to work with students on how they can cover the cost of participating.

“It’s great to make this accessible to that demographic. Maybe they’re the first person in their family to even go to college. Now they’re definitely the first person in their families to study abroad,” Arbut said. “But you have to keep in mind students are coming from a variety of disciplines and colleges have to be conscious of budgets.”

Solomon Tention, director of student engagement at South Louisiana Community College, said he would like to bring the program to his campus as early as this fall.

“Student engagement is a direct correlation to retention. Study abroad is important because it’s an educational experience. Students learn more about themselves and become more self-confident because of the experience,” he said.

Tention said he would consider looking for approval for scholarships to help offset the cost of study abroad expenses for students.

Going global isn’t a new concept. Some institutions, like Lone Star Community College in Houston, have both study abroad programs to send students on educational experiences outside of the country and provide experiences in places like Malta and Jakarta, Indonesia, for international corporate partnerships.

There are also security concerns. Tention said that following terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris this year, he’s cognizant of security and insurance concerns.

“I’ve seen a greater need in community colleges [for study abroad] in order to be competitive in gaining and retaining students. You have to offer things like this,” Arbut said. “Any student of any educational background should have this experience. I know from my own study abroad experience that it opened my eyes and made me more aware.”


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