Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Study Abroad Programming: A 21st Century Retention Strategy?

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Study Abroad Programming: A 21st Century Retention Strategy?

Article excerpt

Preparing the workforce for an increasingly global economy is among the leading concerns in higher education, and retention of students is vital to successfully managing this economic shift. Study abroad programming consistently yields positive outcomes that span these three levels and may very well be a retention strategy that has been previously been overlooked. This article examines and compares retention and study abroad literature to highlight strong similarities in the factors that affect retention compared to the variables that are positively influenced by international study. The subsequent analysis explores how institutions can thoughtfully integrate study abroad programming as an effective retention strategy.

Bateson (1990), in her book Composing a Life, argued that the primary function of education today "is not to confirm what is but to equip young men and women to meet, change and imagine what could be, recognizing the value in what they encounter and steadily working it into their lives and visions" (p. 74). In today's progressively more global society, few would argue that graduates must be engaged, informed, and effective world citizens who can adapt quickly to their ever-changing environments.

Steve Hippie of the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics predicts that by the year 2012 the number of jobs that require advanced skills will grow at twice the rate of those positions that require only basic skills (Lotkowski, Robbins, & Noeth, 2004). Also, the value of education is increasing dramatically. For instance, in 1999 the median college graduate earned 76% more than the median high school graduate, up from only a 38% differential 20 years prior (Stiglitz, Tyson, Orszag, & Orszag, 2000). It is now increasingly important for members of the workforce to hold a bachelor's degree. Norfles (2003) stated, "Today few would question that to be competitive at the postsecondary level and in the workplace, international awareness, exposure and language training are truly advantageous" (p. 9).

The need for an educated citizenry is rapidly increasing, but degree attainment for minority students still shows cause for concern (Carey, 2004; Lotkowski et al., 2004). [Note: In this literature review, unless otherwise specified the terms "minority," and "underrepresented" will be used interchangeably to describe the population of students who are underrepresented in both university and study abroad enrollment. As per the TRIO Program guidelines, underrepresented students are comprised of African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and American Indians/Alaskan Natives, as well as students who meet the qualifications for low income and first-generation status, regardless of ethnicity (Humphrey, Carey, & Mansfield, 2002).] While one study revealed that African American and Hispanic students both are reaching degree status an average of 10% less frequently than their Caucasian counterparts (Carey, 2004), Lotkowski et al. (2004) reported even larger disparities. They reported an approximate 18% gap between the completion rates for both African Americans and Hispanics versus Caucasians. Carey (2004) warned that the lack of degree attainment can be considered a "national dilemma," especially considering ACT's statistic that within 30 years African American and Hispanic citizens will constitute roughly 30% of the U.S. population. Sharing Carey's concern, Lotkowski et al. (2004) stated that "low retention rates waste human talent and resources, jeopardize our nation's economic future, and threaten the economic viability of our postsecondary institutions and our country's democratic future" (p. 2).

If the United States hopes to hold its position as a leader in the world economy, it is essential for institutions of higher learning to produce graduates who are prepared to compete in this international market. At the same time universities must address the problem of fewer minority students entering and successfully completing degree programs. …

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