OPE: Office of Postsecondary Education
Current Section
International Education Programs Service

Study Abroad: Enhancing International and Area Studies Education

Archived Information


Expanding the number of study abroad programs, particularly in currently under-served areas of the world including most of Africa, most of Asia, and most of Latin America, provides Title VI National Resource Centers with exciting opportunities to strengthen and expand their academic programs for undergraduate and graduate students. Moreover, significant funding opportunities exist through the Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad programs and other Title VI discretionary grant funding to support the development and expansion of study abroad programs.

Title VI and Study Abroad

The importance of study abroad experience for our students, our colleges and universities, and our nation can be summarized with four widely recognized benefits:

  • Study abroad programs provide young citizens with cognitive and affective competencies necessary for them to thrive in a global economy, while concurrently providing the nation with a citizenry that is economically competitive and politically savvy; necessary skills for the maintenance of national interests, security, and the ability to effectively respond to political instability, including threats of terrorism.
  • International experience and competency contributes to a comprehensive liberal arts education. There is a substantive research literature that demonstrates that some of the core values and skills of a liberal arts education are enhanced by participation in study abroad programs. These values and skills include:
    • Critical thinking skills;
    • Ability to communicate in more than one language;
    • Ability to communicate across cultural and national boundaries; and the
    • Ability to make informed judgments on major personal and social issues based on the analysis of various perspectives.
  • Study abroad programs can provide specialized training not available at home institutions such as:
    • Advanced level foreign language competency courses;
    • Specialized courses in disciplines such as archeology, art, international business, development studies, education, engineering, nursing/allied health, performance, and world music.
  • Study abroad experiences promote personal growth, development and maturity among participating students.

Indeed, the importance of providing opportunities for U.S. students and scholars to study abroad has long been recognized and supported by the U.S. government, beginning in 1961 with the enactment of the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act (Fulbright-Hays Act). U.S. Senator William Fulbright, the Act’s sponsor, articulated rationale fully consistent with the benefits listed above in advocating for the act. Section 102 of this act authorized a wide variety of cultural and exchange activities and one section, 102(b)(6), focused exclusively on expanding and strengthening foreign language and area studies in U.S. higher education. Given the nature of this focus, President Kennedy issued an executive order assigning the functions authorized by this section of the Fulbright-Hays Act to the then Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW).

Section 102(b)(6) did not sanction specific exchange programs, leaving it to the discretion of professionals at HEW, and later at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), to develop programs consistent with the intent of the Act. In the years immediately following the passing of the Fulbright-Hays Act, HEW established four significant overseas study/research Title VI programs:

  • Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad program;
  • Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad program (for K-12 and college faculty);
  • Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad program; and
  • Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad program.

Two of the four programs—the Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad program and the Group Projects Abroad program—provide opportunities for U.S. students to study abroad. Since the 1960’s the highly competitive Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Research Abroad program has been one of the primary sources of funding for international doctoral research in the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences. This program makes an invaluable contribution to international and area studies education in the United States through the on-going training of new generations of international and area studies scholars.

For more information on this program please visit: http://www.ed.gov/programs/iegpsddrap/index.html

The Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad program promotes study abroad opportunities for U.S. undergraduate and graduate students through two distinct programs:

  • The Fulbright-Hays Groups Projects Abroad Advanced Overseas Intensive Language program currently funds 15 academic year and summer programs in less commonly taught languages including African (Swahili, Zulu), Asian (Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Filipino, Hindi, Indonesian, Tamil, Thai, Urdu) and European (Cero-Serbian). These rigorous language programs offer undergraduate and graduate students with the rare opportunity of intensive language study in a country where the language is a mother tongue.
  • The Fulbright Hays Group Projects Abroad program encourages U.S. institutions of higher education to develop proposals that will assist U.S. undergraduates to participate in new and existing study abroad programs. For example, in 2002 and again in 2004 a consortium that includes the Title VI funded African Studies Center and the Office of Study Abroad at Michigan State University along with the Washington, D.C. based Council for Opportunity in Education was awarded Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad grants that facilitated 15 undergraduate students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds to participate in semester-length study abroad programs in Senegal and South Africa each year.

For more information on the Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad program, please visit: http://www.ed.gov/programs/iegpsgpa/index.html

Study Abroad and the U.S. Academy

Study abroad programs have a rich and distinguished history in post World War II U.S. higher education. Recent decades have witnessed an impressive five percent annual growth rate in the number of U.S. students who study abroad. In academic year 2001-2002, 160,920 U.S. students participated in study abroad programs, more than triple the number of students (48,283) who participated in such programs in 1985-86, the first year that national statistics were collected on study abroad participation. (Open Doors Report, New York: Institute for International Education, November, 2003). However, in spite of this growth ONLY ONE PERCENT of U.S. undergraduate students participate in a study abroad program during their degree program.

These data strongly suggest that quality study abroad programs are an important but largely un-tapped resource for promoting international and areas studies education, particularly at the undergraduate level in U.S. colleges and universities. However, with the notable exception of liberal arts colleges, participation in study abroad programs has not been a high priority in U.S. higher education.

Study Abroad and the Title VI NRC Mission

Study abroad programs provide Title VI international and area studies programs with opportunities to expand and strengthen course offerings across the curriculum.

This is particularly true for non-European areas studies centers and for international studies programs that focus on the non-Western world.

U.S. study abroad programming traditionally has had a strong European bias. In the 1985-1986 academic year (the first year that national statistics on study abroad were collected) just under 80% of all students participating in study abroad programs studied in Europe. During that academic year only 7% of students studied in Latin America, 5.4% in all of Asia, and 1.1% in all of Africa. While programs offered by U.S. colleges and universities have become less Euro-centric, the most recent data for the 2001-2002 academic year demonstrate that Europe remains the primary destination for U.S. students studying abroad. In that year, 62.6% (nearly two thirds) of students studied in Europe (just under 20% of the total studying in the United Kingdom, alone). Indeed, of the top ten countries of destination for U.S. undergraduates studying abroad, the top four are in Europe, as are six out of the top ten countries. The percentage of students studying in Africa has increased marginally to 2.9%, Asia has increased to 6.8%, while the percent studying in Latin America doubled to 14%. (Open Doors Report, New York: Institute for International Education, November 2003).

Given the ease and relatively affordability of air travel to, and the very adequate levels of higher educational infrastructure in most of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, Title VI National Resource Centers (area, language, international) have a wonderful opportunity to generate and meet a demand for study abroad programs in these under-utilized regions of the world. Depending on specific agenda, programming structure can include short-term summer and winter break programs, longer academic quarter, semester and year-long programs.

Specific Benefits of Study Abroad Programming to Title VI Centers

The development and administration of quality study abroad programs provide Title VI National Resource Centers with exciting opportunities to expand and strengthen their academic programs and their compliance with NRC standards and objectives.

  • Expanded Curriculum: High quality and effectively administered study abroad programs provide international and areas studies centers—particularly African, Asian, and Latin American centers with the opportunity to develop new area studies and thematic courses across the curriculum. This is particularly true of short term programs (summer, winter break, inter-session) which typically require participating students to take two to three courses (6-9 credit hours) per program, all which will have 100 percent area or international content.
  • Collaboration with Professional Schools: In compliance with NRC regulations most Title VI international and area studies centers attempt to broaden and strengthen their linkages across disciplinary boundaries to work with disciplines and professional programs that have not traditionally been included in international and area studies. Working with professional schools in the development of study abroad programs is a promising and important avenue of collaboration in strengthening the international agenda within the university. Indeed, national surveys of study abroad programs demonstrate that professional schools (e.g. agriculture, business, education, engineering, nursing and other allied health programs) recognize the benefits of internationalizing their curricula and programming, through study abroad programs.
  • Innovative Curriculum Design: Study abroad programs provide Title VI centers and collaborating academic units with opportunities to develop innovative curricula. For example, an increasing number of study abroad programs offered by U.S. universities emphasize experiential learning and require students to participate in internships with local businesses or non-governmental organizations, or to engage in service learning projects.
  • Language Acquisition: Beyond the exemplary Fulbright–Hays Groups Projects Abroad Advanced Overseas Intensive Language Programs, there are very few university-based study abroad programs for language acquisition and competency in non-European languages. Newly developed foreign language programs in Asia and Africa sponsored by Title VI NRCs will be attractive to undergraduates with a regional interest, particularly heritage learners. Language competency programs will be particularly attractive to undergraduate student who have limited opportunity to take advanced level courses on their home campuses. Inter-institutional, consortial language-focused study abroad programs would address this need while making advanced language courses attractive to students who might not otherwise be interested in advanced level language courses.
  • Enhancing Certificate/Specialization Programs: Undergraduate international and area studies certificate or specialization programs are central to the undergraduate project of most Title VI NRCs. High quality study abroad programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America will attract student participants to certificate and specialization programs. Since all course work completed in study abroad programs count toward area and thematic specialization, certificates, and minors, study abroad programs have the potential for significantly increasing the number of students interested in and who complete requirements for specializations, certificates, etc.
  • Capacitating Inter-Institutional Linkages: The development of long-term (semester and academic year) exchange programs at universities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America can initiate new and strengthen existing linkages between Title VI NRCs and host institutions in these regions. Long-term programs benefit the student participant by providing the opportunity for cultural immersion and to take specialized courses not offered at the home campus. Just as importantly, sponsoring Title VI international and area studies programs benefit from the strengthening of institutional linkages. U.S. based scholars are increasingly dependent on collaborative relationships with international colleagues for their international/area studies scholarly endeavors. Strengthened institutional linkages provide an environment conducive to and facilitative of collaborative scholarship.
  • Generating Support from Constituencies: Finally, high quality and effectively administered study abroad programs in non-traditional regions (non-Western world) will result in increased institutional and student support for Title VI international and area studies centers. Within the university community and its external constituencies there is an increasing awareness and support for international and area studies. This support is particularly strong among Asian, African, and Latin American heritage communities throughout the United States. Effective, high-quality study abroad programs can generate visibility and on-going support for international and area studies programs.

Title VI NRC Collaboration in Study Abroad: An African Studies Example

In 1994, recognizing the potential institutional benefits of quality study abroad programs and the fact that fewer U.S. students study in Africa than in any other region of the world, the 15 African Title VI NRCs formed the National Consortium for Study in Africa (NCSA). Its agenda was to promote and expand quality study abroad programs in Africa. Initiated with funding from the Department’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) the NCSA:

  • Developed guidelines for quality and equitable programming in Africa;
  • Hosted the first U.S. conference to focus study abroad programming in Africa that included representatives from African universities as well as from Title VI centers and university based study abroad offices;
  • Developed a comprehensive searchable Web-based database on study abroad programs in Africa;
  • Provided program development grants to member Title VI centers that resulted in the development of new programs in Kenya, Ghana, Senegal, and Namibia; and
  • Produced and nationally distributed two videos: Study in Africa: New Frontiers for American Students (a 27 minute video promoting study abroad in Africa); and Before You Pack: Preparing for Study in Africa (a 40 minute video manual on preparing for study in Africa).


In an era of undeniable globalization, the development and administration of quality study abroad programs provide Title VI NRCs with the opportunity to complement Fulbright-Hays programs. In so doing, study abroad programs provide undergraduates with a solid grounding in international and areas studies while concurrently expanding and strengthening the sponsoring center’s academic offerings across the curriculum, including advanced foreign language instruction.



Last Modified: 01/21/2011