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Does study abroad make you a better student?


Opinions are divided on the merits of study abroad: Does it help or hinder an education? Is it a glorified vacation for rich kids, or a program of study comparable in depth and rigor to what the student would get back on campus?

The University System of Georgia has spent a decade studying these questions. The findings, briefed Tuesday in Inside Higher Ed, are encouraging.

I pulled these findings from a lengthy PowerPoint presentation on the study Web site:

Graduation rates were higher for Georgia students who studied abroad than for those who stayed home. The six-year graduation rate averaged 89 percent for study-abroad students, as against 83 percent for the control group.

Grade-point averages ran a bit higher for students who had studied abroad, particularly among those with lower SAT scores. The mean GPA of study-abroad students with 1000 SAT scores (500 points each on the verbal and math section, close to the national average) was 3.22, a strong B, compared with 3.16 for those who had not studied abroad.

One wonders, of course, whether the high quality of Georgia's study-abroad program became a self-fulfilling prophecy, considering that those involved knew they were being studied.

Outside the Georgia university system, study abroad programs are regarded as varying widely in rigor. There are legitimate questions to be raised about the wisdom of spending a semester in some generic foreign program as opposed to spending the same semester on the campus of, say, Georgetown or Hopkins.

But the research director of the Georgia study, Don Rubin, told Inside Higher Ed he believes a point has been made.

"I think if there's one take-home message from this research as a whole, it is that study abroad does not undermine educational outcomes, it doesn't undermine graduation rate, it doesn't undermine final semester GPA. It's not a distraction," he said.

"At worst, it can have relatively little impact on some students' educational careers. And at best it enhances the progress toward degree."

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By Daniel de Vise  |  July 13, 2010; 10:53 AM ET
Categories:  Attainment , Pedagogy , Research  | Tags: academic outcomes study abroad, study abroad, study abroad georgia, study abroad research  
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I'm skeptical about the numbers from that study being significant: higher GPAs suggest a more motivated student, which would seem like the sort of student who would take the initiative to plan to study abroad.

I think study abroad has varying impact based on field of study. History and foreign language fields are fairly directly impacted by studying abroad- most students in my school's Classics department, for instance, study abroad at some point, and their education is greatly enhanced by delving into the remains of the cultures they're studying. In other less directly related fields, I think the impact of a study abroad experience varies depending on the strength of the program and the motivation and involvement of the student- if they want to get something out of it, they probably will. If they're just thinking, "hey, it'd be cool to take classes somewhere else for a few months", then there's probably not much point.

Posted by: sarahee | July 13, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

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