Over There: Exchange Programs and Colleges Seek to Send More Minority Students Abroad

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Over There: Exchange Programs and Colleges Seek to Send More Minority. Students Abroad

In some communities, foreign travel is viewed as a rite of passage to round out the college experience. But far too few African Americans are taking advantage of the opportunity to broaden their horizons in the world classroom for reasons that include lack of access to information about opportunities, limited funds, language restrictions and concentration in fields that are not targeted for foreign exchange programs.

An obvious and easily remedied factor may be simply a matter of marketing efforts that do not suggest diverse participation. Accordingly, organizations including the United States Information Agency (USIA) and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) are actively working to encourage and support travel abroad among minority students. The College Fund/UNCF is a consortium of 41 private, historically Black colleges and universities.

"We live in a global village where technology and commerce have redrawn boundaries," says William H. Gray III, president and CEO of UNCF. "It is imperative that we learn about other cultures and expose students and faculty to international opportunities."

The USIA, a major funding source for national foreign exchange programs, is encouraging minority participation by reviewing which students participate and broadening destination options as part of its funding criteria.

"It's been a priority for USIA to get more minority students participating in exchange programs," said Deborah C. Herrin, deputy director of the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP), an organization receiving funds from USIA.

"We've changed our poster to include a collage of students that represents a visual image that the program is open to a diverse cross section of students." Also, unlike in the past, students who are receiving financial aid may now, in some cases, use the aid to study abroad.

Three HBCUs in ISEP

Even though ISEP was established in 1979 under the Fulbright-Hays Act, with the mission of ensuring that study abroad is available to all qualified participants, regardless of social and economic background, only a little more than 2 percent of ISEP's 11,000 exchange students have been African Americans.

But the new efforts may change that.

The ISEP membership network includes 225 institutions, three of whom are historically Black colleges and universities -- Howard, Lincoln and Tennessee State universities. Students in this pool are matriculated directly into host universities for year-long placements in countries that include Argentina, Tanzania, Austria, France and the United Kingdom.

"The U.S. is preparing for a world that is becoming increasingly global, and we have to have well-trained citizens," said Alan Kirschner, executive vice president for programs at UNCF's headquarters in Fairfax, Va. "They must have foreign language proficiency and international experiences."

UNCF and the Institute of International Education, with a $255,650 grant from the Ford Foundation, have joined forces to strengthen international studies programs at HBCUs. The three-year project is designed to provide greater access to international study to a broader base of U.S. students, including those at HBCUs, who are currently underrepresented in study abroad programs.

Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College, all in Atlanta, were selected as leaders in study abroad programs and will serve as HBCU mentor institutions for advice and consultation throughout the three-year project. Six other UNCF member institutions -- Dillard University, Johnson C. Smith University, LeMoyne-Owen College, Paine College, Talladega College, and Wiley College -- have been selected to participate in the project. Each institution will receive access to information about international education opportunities, as well as resources to train one designated faculty member in study abroad advising and advocacy. …