Numbers tell story of study abroad at UW-Madison

A significant indicator of the support for international education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison has been the number of students who study abroad each year—a number that has grown 75% in the past decade.

According to Open Doors 2011, the report released Monday by the Institute of International Education, UW–Madison ranked 10th nationally in the number of students who studied abroad in 2009-10, with 2,169. That compares to 1,236 in 1999-2000.

“At UW-Madison, study abroad continues to be an essential high-impact practice that instills a multitude of skill sets for our students, including global competencies, integrative learning, and independent thinking,” says Julie Lindsey, interim managing director of International Academic Programs (IAP) in the Division of International Studies.  “Through these experiences, students are complementing their degree programs and enhancing their career preparation by learning cross-cultural and workplace skills that are of great value to today’s employers.”

Each study abroad program is unique. These experiences can range from a week or two—including short-term faculty-led courses—to a full year, and include opportunities for service-learning, internships, student teaching, and research.

When factoring in duration, UW-Madison’s position becomes even more impressive—ranking third in 2009-10 among all U.S. institutions for mid-length duration of study abroad and sixth among doctoral institutions for long-term duration. In that year, more than 56% of the UW participants went abroad for a semester and 7% went for an entire academic year, well above the national averages of 38% and 4%, respectively.

“I am pleased to see that UW-Madison students continue to be selecting semester and year-long study abroad program opportunities,” Lindsey says. “While short-term programs offer valuable, accessible international opportunities, our campus continues to value longer experiences abroad whenever possible.”

Here are more 2009-10 UW-Madison study abroad facts:

  • Juniors and seniors account for three-quarters of the students who studied abroad.
  • The leading declared majors of participants are: business and management (567), social sciences (381), humanities (373), foreign languages (318), communication/journalism (208), physical or life sciences (170), health sciences (153), and engineering (142).
  • Europe continues to be the destination for a majority of students, but interest in other regions is growing. The top ten study abroad destinations for 2009-10 were: Spain (283), Italy (199), United Kingdom (175), France (160), China (143), Australia (115), Czech Republic (87), India (84), Germany (65), and South Africa (63).
  • Female participants outnumbered males by 62.7% to 37.3%, from a campus population of 51.8% female and 48.2% male. This gender gap reflects national trends.

UW–Madison students have a variety of ways to arrange overseas study for academic credit:

  • Of the 2,169 students who studied abroad in 2009-10, more than two thirds (1,566) made arrangements through a campus study abroad administrative unit—with 80% going through IAP.
  • The remaining 603 students received credit through individual departments for research, internships, or classes abroad or through the Office of Undergraduate Admissions for programs not sponsored by UW-Madison.

“Study-abroad experiences play an important role in preparing our students to live and work in countries around the world and across cultures,” says Gilles Bousquet, dean of International Studies and vice provost for globalization.

Campus-wide figures for 2010-11 (including the summer of 2011) have not yet been reported, but those numbers are available for IAP-administered programs—which account for more than half of the total campus study abroad participation.

In 2010-11, IAP had 1,343 participants, up 2.84% from the previous year. This included 43 international students and 17 students who participated in more than one IAP program during the year.

According to Lindsey, IAP has room for more: “Some programs are capped at a certain number of spots and other programs can take an unlimited number of students on the program.  We always have programs that can take more students. We also are continuously working with academic departments across campus to develop new programs in tandem with their degree programs. ”

Last year, IAP offered 192 study abroad and exchange programs—up from 161 the previous year—in more than 60 countries on six continents.  Nearly 55% of participants went to Europe, while Asia surpassed Latin America as the second-most popular region, with almost 16% of the total.

The five most popular study abroad destinations were Spain (164), United Kingdom (159), China (122), Italy (104), and France (85).

Traditionally, U.S. study abroad programs have focused on Western Europe, Lindsey explains, but the strongest growth in recent years has been elsewhere.

“With the drive to send more students abroad, to expose them to new areas of the world, these areas—particularly Africa and Asia—are getting better prepared with having foreign students, so more programs are being developed and more students are going to these locations,” she says.

She adds: “It is not surprising that UW-Madison has participant increases in Asia, Middle East, and Latin America, as our institution has strong ties to these areas of the world and has worked collaboratively to develop innovative and meaningful academic experiences for our students.  We have taken great lengths with building educational opportunities in China and India, which are reflective in the participant numbers.”

In 2010-11, African American, Asian American, Native American, and Hispanic students made up 12.06% of IAP participants, slightly below the fall 2010 campus-wide percentage of 13.43% for these ethnic groups. Lindsey says that IAP has been working with various groups and organizations on campus to promote greater minority participation.

The IAP total included 147 participants who completed an international internship for academic credit, a 42.72% increase from 2009-10.

“The development of the International Internship Program (IIP) is a significant factor behind this growth,” Lindsey explains. “I think students will continue to seek out these kinds of opportunities. And as academic departments continue to establishing procedures for how academic internships fit into their respective degree programs, this will allow for the expansion of international academic internship opportunities.”

Maj Fischer, IIP managing director, has cited changes within the job market and how employers hire for growing interest in internships.

“There is a trend for employers to recruit only from a pool of candidates who have worked as interns,” Fischer says. “Higher education institutes have recognized these demands, so they are not only promoting international internships more, but students are catching onto this and are more aware of their options with internships.”

— by Kerry G. Hill