How to Overcome Institutional Barriers to Study Abroad

Zoe Adams, Higher Education Programs Intern

The positive and sustainable impact of studying abroad for college students is undeniable. Research has shown that students who study abroad overwhelmingly attribute academic, social, personal, intercultural, and professional growth to their experience. Despite the overwhelming consensus in the benefits of study abroad, numerous challenges exist in the execution and participation in programs, both for students and higher education institutions (HEIs). The barriers that HEIs face in establishing and implementing study abroad opportunities for their student body are often overlooked, and can have a major effect on the obstacles that students face.

Using a variety of resources, we were narrowed down the five biggest barriers to study abroad programming from the perspective of HEIs, and provided solutions to combat those challenges.

Barrier 1: Student outreach and promoting student interest

Many HEIs have struggled to generate adequate student interest in study abroad programs, especially in groups of non-traditional students. This issue is directly related to addressing certain student barriers to study abroad, such as cost and curricular demands. By creating programs that apply directly towards graduation requirements, offering shorter study abroad options that occur during a school vacations, and building targeted outreach campaigns to promote study abroad programs to specific groups on campus, HEIs have the ability to appeal to a diverse population of students.

Barrier 2: Facilitating faculty integration

Creating incentives for faculty members to participate actively in study abroad programming can be a hurdle for many HEIs. Making sure that faculty members are actively involved in the curriculum development process and feel that the program capitalizes on their expertise is important in implementing a successful study abroad experience for students and faculty alike.

Barrier 3: Staffing for program logistics

Ensuring that there is an individual staff member, or ideally a study abroad department, which is responsible for carrying out program logistics, can be highly beneficial to the long-term success of international education programs. Not only can a study abroad department help to support academic faculty members, but it can also promote student interest, act as a liaison between students and international programs, and assist in program evaluation and growth. Building a study abroad-focused department relies heavily on institutional investment and a commitment to expanding cross-cultural education offerings for a diverse student body.   

Barrier 4: Financial constraints

Education abroad can often be a huge financial burden for students, and decreasing the barrier of cost for students is in the best interest of HEIs. However, many HEIs face their own financial burden in regards to creating and sustaining study abroad programs. Whether this is through absorbing some of the travel or tuition costs, by providing students with opportunities for travel scholarships, or simply by requiring more personnel capacity to offer study abroad opportunities, HEIs may face a monetary barrier when expanding international education offerings.  Understanding and respecting the value of investing in study abroad opportunities is incredibly important for HEIs when facing the challenge of a financial burden. That’s why programs such as our Capacity Building Grants program, which helps fund HEIs interested in growing or creating study abroad programs, are so important.

Barrier 5: Establishing sustainable programs

Creating a sustainable study abroad program is another barrier for HEIs. Investing time and funds into creating a study abroad program that will not occur again can seem futile on the part of the institutions involved.  The best way to tackle this issue is to forge partnerships between HEIs to ensure institutional buy-in, and decrease the likelihood of program burnout. Institutional collaboration allows HEIs to tap into each other’s resources to ensure the most fulfilling experience possible for students and faculty; a mutually beneficial relationship which in turn can help to sustain the program and promote program interest in the future.

It is clear that the various barriers HEIs face in creating and implementing study abroad programs can often appear insurmountable. However, the benefits of study abroad programs have incredible value in building a culturally competent workforce in an increasingly globalized economy. This is why grant programs such as 100,000 Strong in the Americas and the Capacity Building Grants for US Undergraduate Study Abroad, both of which provide support and funds to HEIs looking to increase their study abroad capacity, and appeal to a more diverse population of students, are incredibly important. These grant programs give HEIs funding and structure to address the barriers they face to creating successful study abroad programs, and open doors to providing incredibly important cross-cultural experiences for their students.

Interested in applying for a grant to grow study abroad at your higher education institution? Check out these open competitions!

100,000 Strong in the Americas - Apply Now
   • SENA Tech Challenge: Promoting Study Abroad in Innovation, Research, Entrepreneurship, and Bilingualism between SENA Centers in Colombia and land and grant colleges and universities in the U.S.
   • Fundación Televisa Challenge: Promoting Study Abroad in Aeronautics, Agroindustry, Automotive Industry, Energy, and ICT between TecNM institutes in Mexico and all higher education institutions in the U.S.
   • Nexo Global Colombia Challenge: Promoting Study Abroad in STEM, Agricultural Sciences, and Social Sciences between all higher education institutions in Colombia and the U.S.

Capacity Building Grants for U.S. Undergraduate Study Abroad - Now Closed