WMU joins national initiative to increase study abroad enrollment

Contact: Margaret von Steinen
Photo of WMU faculty and students in Paris.

WMU students and staff on a trip to Paris

KALAMAZOO—Western Michigan University has committed to increasing study abroad participation by 50 percent over the next five years as part of a national initiative that aims to double the number of United States college students studying abroad by 2019.

WMU is one of more than 160 higher education institutions representing 41 states that have pledged to support the goals of the Generation Study Abroad Commitment initiative by the Institute of International Education, or IIE.

IIE, a private nonprofit leader in the international exchange of people and ideas, partners with sponsors around the country to create programs of study and training for students, educators and professionals from all sectors. The institute's programs include the flagship Fulbright Program and Gilman Scholarships administered for the U.S. Department of State. Its policy research activities include annually publishing the Open Doors Report on International and Educational Exchange.

Along with colleges and universities such as WMU, IIE's Generation Study Abroad Commitment initiative has drawn participants from higher education associations, study abroad provider organizations, the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and several foreign institutions and government agencies.

Through the initiative, IIE hopes to increase the national annual total from the 295,000 students who studied abroad in 2011-12 to 600,000 by the end of the decade.

WMU beats national average

IIE establishes an undergraduate study abroad participation rate for colleges and universities by dividing the number of degree-seeking undergraduates who went abroad by the total number of undergraduate degrees awarded in the reporting year.

A total of 482 degree-seeking WMU undergraduate students were studying abroad during the 2011-12 academic year, according to the Open Doors Report released by IIE this past November. WMU achieved a 2011-12 study abroad participation rate for undergraduates of 12 percent, which was more than two percentage points higher than the average national rate for undergraduates.

Dr. Wolfgang Schlör, associate provost for WMU's Haenicke Institute for Global Education, says participating in the IIE initiative will strengthen the global engagement pillar of the University's vision statement by providing increased opportunities for study abroad. WMU's efforts will be focused on raising undergraduate study abroad enrollment from about 471 students per year currently to 707 students by 2020.

"WMU's student body includes a high percentage of first-generation college students, and 19 percent of students represent minorities," Schlör says. "Consequently, many of our students do not come to the University with plans to study abroad or have family or friends who encourage them to do so. We need to actively encourage study abroad in all stages of the student experience."

Steps planned to achieve goal

  • Launching a new pre-freshman study abroad program
  • Training college-specific peer advisors
  • Expanding teacher education internships abroad
  • Developing study abroad programs targeted at students of migrant parents
  • Working with colleges to increase college-based study abroad scholarships
  • Working with colleges and departments to identify programs that fit well into the major and minor degree requirements
  • Working with WMU's longstanding transnational education partners to establish study abroad programs for WMU students that meet major, minor and general education requirements

Significant funding support

Building on its nearly 100-year commitment to study abroad, IIE has earmarked $2 million of its own funds to the new initiative over the next five years. IIE is also actively raising funds for a study abroad fund to provide scholarships to college and high school students and grants to institutions.

WMU awarded nearly $500,000 in student scholarships for study abroad during the 2011-12 academic year, with $400,000 coming from University sources. The University's President's Grant for Study Abroad and the Haenicke Institute for Global Education Scholarship for Study Abroad have been particularly influential in spurring the growth in study abroad enrollment.

For more information about WMU's participation in the Generation Study Abroad Commitment initiative, contact Dr. Jane E. Blyth, WMU study abroad director, at jane.blyth@wmich.edu or (269) 387-5890.