During the height of the pandemic, study abroad programs came to a screeching halt, leaving many U.S. college students to miss out on this life-changing experience and the cultural benefits that come with global engagement. Today, two years later, as many aspects of pre-pandemic life are coming back, students are now ready to travel to other countries and gain cross-cultural experiences, even as some COVID-19 regulations persist.
To get a sense of students’ perspectives regarding study abroad, Terra Dotta commissioned a survey of U.S. college students, and the findings highlight pent-up demand for study abroad. More than 72% of students surveyed said they plan to study abroad in 2022, citing strengthening their language skills (30%) and preparing for the global workforce (24%) as the primary reasons.
With a cross-section of college students responding, more than half of the survey participants (55%) were college seniors. As the Class of 2022 were just sophomores when the pandemic began, they are the most likely to have had their study abroad plans cut short. Yet, many are still planning to participate in the milestone experience of study abroad. Nearly 40% of students cited planning a summer 2022 experience, while 26% said they were planning to study abroad in the spring. The top experiences students reported considering were Research (28%) and a Semester Abroad (26%), followed by internships (14%) and language learning or immersion (12%).
Another 58% of students said that while concerned about their health during the pandemic, they plan to proceed with a study abroad program safely. Only 16% of respondents said that COVID-19 concerns are holding them back from their intentions to study abroad.
“Taking care of your physical health is important. But you have to manage that by taking precautions, so you don’t miss out on the positive life-changing experiences that you may only get one shot at,” one student respondent noted.
With this backlog of students making plans to travel and take part in study abroad, it’s up to study abroad offices to make the most of this resurgence of interest—finding the best ways to connect with students and communicate with them about study abroad throughout their academic journey.
Here are three ways to encourage and breathe new life into study abroad programs on campus.
Engage students through proactive communication
Study abroad offices should be proactive in their marketing communication to reach more students earlier in their academic journey. Half of the students surveyed pointed to the study abroad website as their information medium of choice for their institution to promote information about programs and availability. However, only 22% of students learned about study abroad in their first year. That leaves a lot of opportunity to increase visibility and access to program details earlier in the student journey. In fact, study abroad is a decisive factor in many students’ college selections. Nearly 90% of students surveyed said an institutions’ study abroad programs and the schools’ support of such programs impacted their selection decision.
Continue to invest in study away and virtual options
When the world underwent a digital transformation amid the pandemic and video conferencing replaced in-person calls, meetings and travel, so did study abroad programs. Suddenly, virtual study abroad programs took off. For example, Bard College and Central European University launched an online international experience, The Open Society University Network (OSUN), to build a new model of global higher education and cultivate a new generation of globally engaged students. During COVID, it was the primary way Bard students could gain experience in international relations from the safety of their homes. In addition, the program promotes the integration of virtual exchange in courses by providing a proven method for intercultural project-based learning between students and their international peers.
Study Away is another program re-energized by the pandemic that helps students gain cultural awareness and engagement without leaving the country. It’s also an option for students looking for a more financially flexible opportunity. More than half (60%) of the students Terra Dotta surveyed indicated they would be very interested in Study Away as an alternative to studying abroad.
Make study abroad programs more accessible
The pandemic increased attention around the accessibility of a study abroad experience, and survey respondents took note with 47% of students saying they would like help identifying more financial aid opportunities and 23% would like help aligning study abroad opportunities with their field of study. As institutions adopted virtual programming, students who were previously unable to afford the experience or unable to travel due to financial, physical, mental health, or other obstacles were suddenly presented with the opportunity to participate.
Today’s college students realize the invaluable benefits of traveling abroad and being a part of a college or university that supports and encourages study abroad programs. In addition, students know that employers value graduates with international experience in a globalized and well-connected world. Therefore, higher ed institutions must invest in study abroad programs that help students learn new languages, appreciate other cultures, understand the world better and overcome the challenges of living in another country.
By providing students with the tools needed to grow as a person and experience life through the eyes of other cultures, institutions can help create a more globalized society for future generations.
Anthony Rotoli, CEO of Terra Dotta, is an active business leader specializing in transforming companies, introducing leading-edge technologies, sales growth, marketing, and business development initiatives while optimizing processes, products, and talent to increase profit and drive change. He’s leveraged his 25 years of experience building robust enterprise technologies and teams to lead in organizational success. His background includes “C” and senior-level roles at global organizations ranging from early-stage start-ups to large public companies.
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