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Minorities underrepresented in study abroad programs

Student diversity in study abroad programs

White students hold an overwhelming majority in study abroad programs, according to a study to be published in print this month by Research in Higher Education.

They made up a little more than 60 percent of post-secondary education enrollment in 2008, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

But they are overrepresented in study abroad programs at 80.5 percent, according to the Institute of International Education’s 2008-2009 statistics.

And minority groups are underrepresented.

The discrepancy was greatest for black and Latino students.

Bob Miles, UNC associate dean for study abroad and international exchanges, said the reason for the lack of minority students studying abroad stems from the rough economy.

“We have no formal survey data that would allow us to explain underrepresentation, but informal feedback suggest that the additional cost of studying abroad may explain at least some of the underrepresentation,” he said.

Miles said that UNC does not have statistics on the number of minority students who choose to study abroad.

More than 20 percent of UNC study abroad students chose not to indicate their race, Miles said.

To address possible financial concerns hindering students from travel opportunities, the Institute of International Education launched the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship in 2001. It provides need-based financial aid to qualified study abroad applicants.

The Gilman Scholarship has been instrumental in improving diversity in study abroad, said Leena Soman, manager of public affairs at the institute.

The 2009-10 scholarship recipients were largely dominated by minority students, as 15 percent of recipients were black, 16 percent were Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 15 percent were Latino.

Only 41 percent of the recipients were white.

The study reported that the cultural immersion appealed to white students more than others.

“When you tell people who are minorities that they need to go across the world for a cross-cultural experience, they’ll say, ‘What are you talking about? Every day is a cross-cultural experience,’” said Mark Salisbury, the co-author and researcher for the study.

Salisbury said schools should market study abroad’s other qualities, such as building independence and enhancing employment competitiveness.

“Rather than thinking about participation numbers as the goal, we need to be thinking about educational outcomes.”

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