How these 3 U.S. universities are democratizing study abroad access

A typical study abroad program for Xavier's students can cost as little as $2,500 to $3,000, a low price compared to most programs that cost north of $15,000, according to

Growth in international students to the U.S. helps suggest that globalized learning has a chance to make a big rebound in higher education as it sheds its pandemic coat. While interest in studying abroad, too, makes big gains, it’s hitting an age-old roadblock, stymying students from experiencing a vital growth opportunity.

More than eight in 10 students surveyed by Terra Dotta, a global engagement platform, said program cost/finances weight into their doubts about studying abroad. The problem is significantly higher for Black students, who made up just 4% of all study abroad students in the 2020-21 academic year, according to a report from last year.

Three U.S. institutions may have cracked the case together.

Spelman College (Ga.), Vassar College (N.Y.) and Xavier University of Louisiana are now engaged in a partnership with the University of Manchester in the U.K. that aims to seamlessly integrate different layers of the universities from each side of the pond. From faculty and student exchanges to joint research projects, the bond aims to expand globalized learning opportunities for students who would traditionally be shut out.

“The resources that require global education are not very feasible many times for African American students,” says Shearon Roberts, director of XULA’s Exponential Honors Program. “The ability to find a way to create global engagement learning for our students through this unique partnership is part of changing that statistic that has been very difficult to move.”

More from UB: Here’s what’s at stake in these high-level negotiation talks with school stakeholders

As an HBCU, many XULA students are first-generation, and the significant financial investment and mission for such students and their families is the act of making it to college in the first place, Roberts explains. Adding study abroad into the equations is not even on the radar.

“[Enrollment] is already an enormous financial investment for the entire household,” she says.

A typical study abroad program at XULA can cost as little as $2,500 to $3,000, a small fraction compared to most programs that cost north of $15,000, according to Students in good academic standing can also apply for additional grants and scholarships that match or cover most—if not all—the remaining costs.

As attractive as the price point looks, the partnership provides a wide array of global learning opportunities that can flex with what a student can afford to commit to timewise; they can choose plans from as little to one week or a month.

Manchester is ideal for students who might be abroad for the first time. It’s in an English-speaking country that boasts robust resources as a premier university, and it’s situated in a college town. All of these factors are conducive to success for students who may need a soft landing and less turbulent culture shock, Roberts explains.

At a core level, tying these institutions together is their shared interests in academia and research. Spelman College is one of six educational institutions selected for the Coalition Energy Sustainability Program (ESP), which intersects with a similar mission to Manchester’s. Additionally, Spelman and XULA’s missions as HBCUs intersect smoothly with Manchester’s Centre for Dynamics of Ethnicity and ties to prominent Black education activists.

Faculty from all four schools have already begun planning collaborative teaching opportunities and introducing academic staff to one another to facilitate joint research projects, said Angelina Wilson, associate dean for Internationalisation at Manchester.

“We believe XULA, Vassar and Spelman offer an impressively high-quality educational opportunity, leading to excellent graduates,” she said in an email. “Colleagues in all four institutions have been committed to building relationships—not MOUs or joint pieces of paper that gather dust.”

Roberts hopes that as joint research projects between faculty proliferate in these mutual fields of interest, the grants provided to each university will help promote deeper collaboration and personnel exchanges. Also on the table for future endeavors are internships and externships.

“It’s not just study abroad. It’s a partnership about creating synergy between two institutions from different countries that touch on all cornerstones of what universities do,” says Roberts. “From teaching to professional development to research to shaping communities.”

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

Most Popular