Why Colleges Push Study Abroad Programs

College students are strongly encouraged to study abroad. These foreign programs are presented as a way to grow and mature, while soaking up a different culture far away from home.

In recent years they’ve become ever more popular, thanks to aggressive marketing on the part of colleges and universities.

Nearly every four-year institute now offers formal study abroad opportunities. At least one school, Goucher College, in Baltimore, MD, makes it a graduation requirement, according to another published report.

However, few people are aware that colleges have a strong financial incentive to steer students into these expensive tours.

The aggressive marketing has, apparently, worked, because the number of students choosing to spend their junior year in a foreign land has soared. At least 270,000 American college co-eds are enrolled in these programs, at least triple the number that traveled overseas just 20 years ago.

The most popular destination is Europe. Students from the United States typically head to England, France, Italy and Germany. In recent years, many students have also opted to study in China.

Why Colleges Push Study Abroad Programs

An entire industry has also sprung up around the study abroad phenomenon. By one estimate, this generates about $20 billion in revenue every year, primarily for the organizers of these adventures. Students who choose study abroad pay a premium. Enrolling directly at a foreign university would be a fraction of the cost of what they pay to a formal study abroad program, which acts as a middleman.

Students who skip the program, and make their own arrangements, may find their credits don’t transfer. It typically costs tens of thousands of dollars for a year overseas, in addition to the regular tuition paid to the home college.

The American college typically receives a commission on the foreign package. Other incentives, such as programs paying universities a fee to market the study abroad option, are also common.

Student Safety May be an Issue

Despite the prevalence of formal programs, safety is still a concern. An estimated 400 American students have lost their lives overseas within the last 15 years, according to ClearCause Foundation, a national advocacy group pressing for federal standards in the study abroad industry.

However, no one really knows the exact number of incidents, because there is no central database, according to ClearCause.

Why Colleges Push Study Abroad Programs

Flickr photo (thumbnail) by Moyan_Brenn