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UNC striving to increase study abroad opportunities

When Bob Miles was first appointed the full-time study abroad director in 2000, he sent fewer than 800 students abroad. 

Now, UNC is ranked 17th in the total number of students studying abroad among all American higher education institutions, according to the Institute of International Education’s 2017 Open Doors Report, on International Educational Exchange. According to the report, UNC sent 2,124 students abroad in the 2015-2016 school year. 

UNC moved up two spots from the previous year, but falls behind other large, public schools like The University of Texas at Austin and Michigan State University.

The data for this survey is provided by universities every year, and Miles, now associate dean for study abroad and international exchanges in the College of Arts and Sciences, said it is one of the only reliable databases for students studying abroad. 

“It’s a survey that’s really well known and that we have a lot of trust in,” Miles said. 

UNC’s increased number of students going abroad reflects a national trend that sees global education as an important aspect of an undergraduate education. The IIE found that the amount of United States' students studying abroad increased by 3.8 percent last year, bringing the total to 325,339 students.

“The world is becoming increasingly global,” Miles said. “I’m not an American. I’m a foreigner, a migrant worker. Many more of your generation are going to find themselves living and working in foreign countries, so understanding what it means to study, to live in a foreign country, certainly better prepares you for that future.”

Many of the top-ranked schools are large, public universities, similar to UNC. Miles attributes higher numbers of study abroad students in those schools to the universities’ commitment, available resources and campus culture, among other factors. 

The rankings are based on the sheer number of students studying abroad. It is not in proportion to the school population. Last year, UNC sent 7.3 percent of its students abroad. By comparison,  Texas A&M University  — ranked No. 2 with a population more than twice the size of UNC’s — sent 5.5 percent of its students abroad.

UNC Global is working toward making study abroad opportunities accessible to more students. The office is working on increasing short summer programs, especially three-week programs, so students can continue to work during the summer. Over the past few years, UNC Global expanded the number of programs it offers, specifically for science majors. 

UNC students still face difficulties when wanting to study abroad. Katie Costanza, the research, communication and program manager for the Center for Global Initiatives, said that students can’t study abroad mostly because of financial reasons, on-campus commitments or lack of family consent.

This is the case for first-year Catherine Young. She said that she would love to study abroad, but doesn't think that she can afford it.

“Even if I go for a semester and it’s covered by tuition, I feel like it’s still more expensive to live in places like Europe where I would want to study," she said.

Costanza said that institutions around campus are trying to make study abroad more affordable for students.

"I think we can find more ways to navigate more and help students financially, and help students better understand what their options are and better communicate the value of a global experience," she said. 


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