Many study abroad, but U looks to boost numbers

The U leads in total students abroad, but participation is on track with peers.

by Roy Aker

The University of Minnesota is a national leader in the number of students who study abroad but not the percentage of them, a recent report found.

The University had the third-most students studying abroad for credit in the 2011-12 school year, according to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors report. To increase this number, the University’s Learning Abroad Center is adapting some programs to fulfill more curriculum requirements.

Although the University had a higher number, other Big Ten schools like Indiana University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Michigan State University have a higher percentage of students who study abroad. In the 2011-12 school year, the University had a higher enrollment total than any of the other three schools.

Overall, U.S. students studying abroad increased by 3 percent during the 2012-13 school year, the report said, and study abroad participation has more than tripled over the past two decades.

Top destinations during the year surveyed were the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain.

Minnesota remained third in the nation for the number of students studying abroad for credit, despite a slight decrease in the 2011-12 school year.

Learning Abroad assistant dean Martha Johnson said when including non-credit earning trips, the University has actually seen growth in learning abroad participation since 2011.

More than a decade ago, the University set a goal to have more than half its students travel abroad in some fashion before graduating, Johnson said.

Johnson said at that time, only about 10 percent of students went abroad for any reason before graduating. She said that number has grown now.

To encourage participation, the University offered more trips that would satisfy liberal education requirements and major-specific coursework.

Political science sophomore Austen Wygocki plans to study abroad with a University-sponsored program in France. Wygocki said she wanted to find a program that would fulfill requirements for both her major and minor.

“I want to graduate in four years, so I want a program that won’t stall my graduation plan,” she said.

Wygocki said she’ll be able to fulfill her French minor requirements and take political science courses at a University-partnered school in Montpellier, France.

Finance senior Nate Kado, who completed a study abroad program in France, said the trip gave him a new cultural perspective and an opportunity to learn French and fulfill courses in his major.

Kado said all five courses he completed while abroad transferred back to the University.

Johnson said the University has concentrated on expanding existing programs rather than creating many new ones. To expand programs in other countries, Johnson said the Learning Abroad Center reaches out to alumni and possible donors.

In the 2011-12 school year, the University was able to award scholarships for studying abroad to only about one-third of students who applied. But despite the high sticker price, Wygocki said students should try to study abroad if they can.

“People that I’ve talked to who’ve graduated … said that their one regret for college was not doing study abroad,” she said.

Johnson said the Learning Abroad Center hopes to expand options to majors that previously didn’t have many study abroad options or ones in which students simply weren’t choosing to study abroad.

“We want it to be a viable and available option for everyone, and I think the hard message is to convince students that we do [include] them; that it isn’t students studying something else or with a different background,” she said.