Mason joins initiative to boost study abroad participation

Mason has joined a national initiative aimed at doubling the number of U.S. students studying abroad.

The initiative, called Generation Study Abroad, is a program by the Institute of International Education, a Washington D.C. based non-profit.

Mason’s goal as a part of the initiative is to quadruple the number of Mason students studying abroad. During the 2011- 2012 academic year, 908 students participated in study abroad programs at Mason.

According to the Open Doors Report on International and Educational Exchange, less than 10 percent of U.S. college students study abroad before graduating. The overall goal is to increase this percentage by having 600,000 U.S. students studying abroad by the end of the decade.

Anne Schiller, Vice President for Global Strategies at Mason, sees the partnership with Generation Study Abroad as providing valuable resources that will help Mason to meet its own goal and thus contribute to the overall goal of 600,000 students.

“Partnering with IIE will open the way to explore best practices with colleagues across the country, as we contribute our experiences and learn from those of others, to help us reach ambitious goals,” Schiller said. “By virtue of its selection in the Generation Study Abroad Initiative, Mason is also eligible to compete for new funds from IIE that will help us expand our capabilities in international education.”

As a part of Generation Study Abroad, Mason will be connected to more than 150 higher education institutions also participating in the initiative.

“This partnership will allow us to network with other institutions to see what they are doing about the barriers [to studying abroad] and to do an analysis of what our own students’ barriers are,” said Marie alice Arnold, General Manager of the Center for Global Education.

Currently, the CGE offers more than 90 programs in 50 different countries. Staff from both Schiller’s office, the Office of Global and International Strategies, and from the CGE will work together to meet the challenges involved in increasing the number of students taking advantage of these programs.

“We’re very good on the access points. We have opportunities at every different financial level. We allow students to go on programs, as long as they are academically sound, that fit their needs so we don’t have any limitations on that,” Arnold said. “But are there other institutional barriers that are preventing students from studying abroad?”

According to Arnold, it’s vital that students know about study abroad options early in their careers at Mason so there is adequate time to do academic and financial planning. She sees the conversation that will strike up around Generation Study Abroad as key to getting students informed.

“This partnership allows us to continue the conversation about what place study abroad has at George Mason University and have people really talking about what the benefits are,” Arnold said. “It draws attention to study abroad as an important piece of the academic component at Mason.”

Recommendations that are likely to spring from this initiative include growing existing relationships with international partner universities and increasing opportunities for international internships. In addition, the administration hopes to make studying abroad a requirement for certain undergraduate degree programs.

The partnership, along with the opening of the new campus in Songdo, Korea earlier this month, marks Mason’s continuing commitment to global education and international relations. Developing the Korea campus is seen as key to reaching the Mason’s goal of quadrupling study abroad participation.

“East Asia is a dynamic world region, so that prospect [developing Mason’s Korea campus] is especially exciting and very timely,” Schiller said.

The new strategic plan emphasizes development of an international worldview. According to Schiller, studying abroad is key to students cultivating this globalized way of thinking.

“Increasing the number of students who enjoy opportunities to study abroad and to participate in many kinds meaningful global experiences support the development of a global mindset,” Schiller said.