The college student population has become increasingly diverse in the last few decades, but white students are still the majority of undergrads who study abroad.
Only 8.3 percent of Hispanic college students and 5.6 percent of black undergrads typically study abroad, according to the Council on International Educational Exchange. About 300,000 students of all backgrounds study abroad each year, the council stated in arecent report.
Lack of money and familiarity with college study abroad programs are often obstacles for many minorities who want to enroll in an academic program overseas, experts say.
“About 72 percent of our students are first-generation-to-college students,” says Joseph Castro, president of California State University—Fresno, which is a Hispanic-serving institution. The federally designated HSIs have a Hispanic student enrollment of at least 25 percent.
“Over 60 percent of our students receive Pell Grants,” says Castro. Pell Grants are doled out by the federal government for college students with financial hardship.
To help more students of color see Asia, Europe and other continents, the Council on International Educational Exchange has partnered with the Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Education to assist undergrads from minority-serving institutions in studying abroad. Through the partnership, which wasannounced in March, the council and Penn will also build strong relationships with leaders from these minority-serving schools.
They will send students overseas using a three-year strategy, which includes workshops and trainings for school leaders to better support students who want a global learning experience.
The two organizations will “commit to training college presidents, college faculty and then providing full scholarships for students to be able to participate in rich international programs each year,” says James Pellow, president and CEO of the Council on International Educational Exchange.
The partnership came about after a November workshop in which Penn, the council and college presidents from 10 minority-serving institutions gathered to discuss the importance of international study and how to provide more of their students with such an opportunity.
Penn will select 10 students each school year from various institutions who will receive scholarships for a four-week stint in another country. The ideal recipient is a rising sophomore who can study abroad the summer after his or her freshman year.
“Students need to demonstrate strong academic ability and character, and they have to be nominated by their university or college president,” says Pellow.
Castro, who was at the November meeting, has spent much of his time as president at California State University—Fresno fundraising to increase the number of students who can afford to study abroad.
“This year we had about 485 of our students study abroad, and that’s about a 34 percent increase over two years ago, which is when I became president,” he says.
About 21,000 undergrads attend the university. One of those undergrads who recently spent time overseas is Edzvan Carranza Duran. The 22-year-old, second-year student spent September through January in Japan, studying Japanese and the culture of the island nation.
“It was sort of a crazy experience to be taken out of the usual,” says Duran, who’s of Mexican descent. California, where his family resides, is full of Hispanics, but he didn’t recall running into Latinos in Japan, he says.
Duran says he didn’t really know other people with a similar background who also studied abroad before he started traveling for school. During his first year, he visited Japan for two weeks as part of a class, he says. His most recent and longer visit was especially memorable.
“It was fantastic,” he says, and he and other students traveled to different places, went to festivals and participated in karaoke.
Other minority-serving institutions are removing logistical barriers that prevent students from seeing different countries.
“We’re providing passports free of charge to our students who want to travel,” says Elmira Mangum, who also attended the November meeting and is president of the historically black Florida A&M University. An adult’s passport costs $110, according to the Department of State.
While studying abroad can be costly, and maybe even scary if it’s someone’s first time, the benefits are long lasting, experts say.
Students can deepen their knowledge of other cultures and have a more competitive resume when it’s time enter the job market.
“Leadership in America and around the world requires a deeper understanding of different cultures,” says Castro.