More American College Students Need to Study Abroad


As International Education Week passes, a report from the Institute of International Education shows that the number of students that are studying abroad has risen over the past year. This encouraging news coincides with a State Department push for increased participation among American students, a positive step towards creating a generation of Americans that are ready to handle the unique challenges of the 21st century.

The world is becoming an undeniably more connected place. The U.S. should make it a national priority to send more students abroad. Increasing the number of students who study abroad has benefits that range from national security to economic prosperity and will help to protect America’s future.

While the IIE report shows an uptick in the number of American students studying abroad, this is overshadowed by the disheartening fact that only 1% of students enrolled in higher education are studying abroad. This report also reveals an increase of international students studying in the U.S., with China sending 23% more students this year over last. In light of this news, the State and Education departments should focus more attention and resources towards promoting and providing study abroad opportunities for America’s youth.

Study abroad programs have a host of benefits for the individual student and the society to which they contribute. As a society, America benefits from the experience and language skills that students bring back with them from foreign programs. These benefits can translate into national security gains, as the returning students are prime candidates for the plethora of government jobs that require foreign language skills. This need is recognized by the State Department that already has some programs in place, but it can do more to fill the growing demand.

Beyond national security, these students can use their language and cultural skills to improve the economic future of America. U.S. corporations are becoming increasingly multinational and have a need for workers that can intelligently lead and cultivate expansions into other regions of the world. With better-educated talent, the public and private sectors can influence an economic engine that is better equipped to capitalize upon the diversity that exists in foreign markets.

While it may be hard for the American government to justify creating financial incentives for students to study abroad, it would be a healthy investment in the country’s future. Students themselves should also seize the opportunity to go abroad. Studying abroad is a life-changing experience that offers the student a new perspective on the world and gives them an appreciation for the cultural diversity that the world has to offer.

For American society as a whole and the student as an individual, studying abroad should be a priority. Developing a worldwide perspective and cultivating a foreign language will be invaluable skills for the future leaders of America. The U.S. needs a new generation that can react to a fast-paced global environment that will bring challenges that extend beyond national borders.

One can only hope that the government bureaucracy and Congress see the incentives for expanding overseas study and push for programs that invest in the next generation rather than undermine their future. 

Photo Credit: Tyler Haglund