Anyone who has studied abroad knows the many benefits of this international experience. Many credit study abroad as changing their life, and opening their eyes. But how do we measure this? Experts in the field have been trying to quantitatively measure the benefits of study abroad for years.
GLOSSARI (the Georgia Learning Outcomes of Students Studying Abroad Research Initiative) put together a research project on the academic outcomes of study abroad, in which they followed nearly 20,000 students who studied abroad from the 35 institutions in the University System of Georgia. They compared these students with a control group matching similar demographics, but who did not study abroad.
“They’ve found that students who study abroad have improved academic performance upon returning to their home campus, higher graduation rates, and improved knowledge of cultural practices and context compared to students in control groups.”
GLOSSARI measured the change in GPA, and graduation rates. They also put out an “intercultural learnings” survey “From pre- to post-test, study abroad participants surpasses non-study abroad participants in measures related to functional knowledge of cultural practices… Study abroad students also grew in their knowledge of cultural context.”
These advantages aren’t just seen in the top students. Greater increases in GPA were also seen in “at risk” students, contradicting the previous notion that these students should stay home and focus on their studies. Instead, study abroad can be used as a way to engage “at risk” students.
Study abroad has struggled with attracting a diverse group of participants. Minorities who did study abroad were found to have a dramatically higher graduation rates than minorities who stayed on their home campus; 31% higher for African-American students and 18% for other non-white students.
As more institutions, educators and parents insist on accountability of study abroad programs, it is imperative for experts to continue to research and improve our assessment tools. It is difficult to assess an experience with so many intangible benefits, but we must try!
One great way to see the advantages of study abroad is to hear personal testimonies, how the experience has influenced their life goals and their outlook on life. Abroad101 has created a forum to share such reviews and contribute to the overall evaluation of study abroad programs. Our goal is to make meaningful evaluations a standard among study abroad students, so we can tangibly measure the advantages it creates.