Report, Educators Call for More Study Abroad Programs: Lack of Global Knowledge Threatens the Nation's Security, Future, Experts Say

By Lane, Kristina | Black Issues in Higher Education, December 18, 2003 | Go to article overview

Report, Educators Call for More Study Abroad Programs: Lack of Global Knowledge Threatens the Nation's Security, Future, Experts Say


Lane, Kristina, Black Issues in Higher Education


WASHINGTON

Americans don't know enough about the world in which they live, according to a new report by an international-education task force, which calls for a "national effort" to reverse the trend. The report says higher education is vital to the effort and that more students must spend time studying abroad. If Americans don't expand their global knowledge, educators say, the United States stands to lose much--including the war on terror.

According to the Institute for International Education (IIE), participation in study abroad programs among American students has tripled during the last 15 years. IIE's annual report, Open Doors 2003, says 160,920 U.S. students studied abroad for credit during the 2001-2002 school year.

But NAFSA, a national association of international educators, says these numbers are a mere pittance.

"Students who study abroad amount to barely more than 1 percent of the 8 million full-time and 5 million part-time undergraduates attending the 3,400 accredited U.S. colleges and universities," says the report, which was compiled by NAFSA's Strategic Task Force on Education Abroad. "Any way you look at it, the number is infinitesimal."

A number of barriers keep the number of American students studying abroad low, the report says, including stringent curricula, financial constraints, a lack &faculty participation and a failure to address the needs of nontraditional students, whose college enrollment numbers are rising.

According to the report and members of the task force, these factors contribute to Americans' lack of understanding about the world beyond the United States--an ignorance that became clear after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"Since 9/11, it has become more and more clear that our country simply cannot afford to remain ignorant of the rest of the world. The stakes are too high," says Dr. Richard W. Riley, former U.S. Secretary of Education and co-chair of the task force. "The generation that will lead our country tomorrow must receive an international education today. They must have opportunities to learn about other countries, other cultures and other points of view ... from direct experience, as an integral part of their higher education."

Language barriers are especially problematic, Riley said.

"There is a fallacy in this country that we don't have to learn other languages because everyone else is learning English. That view profoundly misunderstands the value of foreign-language learning. We are, in many ways, blind to what is really going on in countries where we cannot communicate in their language."

According to a fall 2002 survey conducted by the Modern Language Association of America, 8.7 percent of all students in U.S. higher education study a foreign language--up from 7.5 percent in 1998. Spanish, French and German account for a majority of foreign-language enrollments, with 53 percent, 14 percent and 7 percent, respectively (see Black Issues, Dec. 4).

While the numbers show improvement, educators say it's not enough. So what can be done to turn things around? For starters, the report recommends the following:

* President Bush and the U.S. Congress should establish a national policy on study abroad programs and provide financial support that will help make them possible;

* Governors and state legislatures need to adopt state policies supportive of international education and find ways to help students afford study abroad;

* Colleges and university presidents must encourage study abroad in all fields while helping make it more affordable and accessible;

* Private businesses and industry need to let schools know that students with international experience will be very valuable in the work force. …

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