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College Study Abroad Experiences its First Decline in 25 Years

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The number of American college students studying abroad has declined for the first time in the 25 years that the data has been tracked, according to the November 15, 2010 report Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange.

Open Doors, issued by the Institute of International Education, provides insight on international students studying in the U.S. as well as U.S. students studying abroad for academic credit at their home colleges or universities. It is supported by a grant from the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. The report has been published by the Institute of International Education (IIE) since 1985. Findings are based on surveys of approximately 3,000 accredited U.S. institutions.

The most recent edition of Open Doors reports that 260,327 students studied abroad for credit during the 2008-09 academic year, compared to 262,416 the previous year. This is a modest decline of 0.8% but the first decline in the 25 years that the data has been tracked.

Better Study Abroad Numbers Predicted for 2009-10 Report

Inside Higher Ed reports that a 2010 online survey found that fifty-five percent of colleges and universities said more of their students studied abroad in 2009-10. Schools also reported fewer study abroad budget and staffing cuts.

Europe still attracted the largest share of U.S. students choosing to study abroad—over 140,000 of them—but European study abroad enrollments dropped by four percent.

Study abroad programs in Mexico dropped as well. The report speculated that Mexico’s H1N1 virus outbreak probably contributed to a 26.3% decline in the number of U.S. students studying there, and drug-related violence at the Mexican border may have also been a reason for the decline.

The report found that there were notable increases in the number of U.S. students going to study in less traditional destinations. Fifteen of the top 25 study abroad destinations were outside of Western Europe and nineteen were countries where English is not a main language. The number of U.S. students studying abroad in Africa, Asia and South America increased —Africa by sixteen percent, Asia by two percent and South America by thirteen percent.

USA Today explains that the report found growth in those areas was fueled in part “by new and sometimes more affordable” programs in developing countries.

Money was the Reason Many Students Did Not Study Abroad

Money was a main reason that many college students stayed in the U.S. as opposed to studying abroad, even though they wanted to travel. Howard Davison, a program coordinator for at Central Penn College in Summerdale, PA, canceled a 2008 student trip to Ireland. “I heard stories about parents losing their jobs and students who would really like to go, but could not afford it,” he told USA Today.

“The economic situation around the world, not just the U.S., is clearly having an impact,” says Peggy Blumenthal, executive vice president of IIE.

State Department Assistant Secretary Ann Stock said that study abroad is an important part of making U.S. students more world-conscious. “In a globalized economy, this just makes sense for our young people and our country,” she said.

Colleges have reported that more students are currently choosing shorter and less expensive programs, as well as less expensive destinations.

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For more detailed information on study abroad data for 2008-09, visit Open Doors Data.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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