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Study Abroad? Some College Students Rethink Travel Plans

Study Abroad? Some College Students Rethink Travel Plans


January 05, 2010

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Economic reality and money problems may be cooling the enthusiasm of U.S. college students to study abroad, just two years after students’ interest in foreign study was at an all-time high.

Four times as many students went abroad in the 2007-2008 academic year as 20 years ago, according to a survey of 985 schools released this week by the Institute of International Education, a nonprofit advocacy group.

But nearly 60 percent of the schools and study-abroad groups surveyed in early September by The Forum on Education Abroad report decreased enrollment from a year ago, since the global economic crisis.

Brown University in Providence, which typically sends one-third of its junior class abroad, saw a 10 percent drop in such enrollment this fall compared with fall 2008, said Kendall Brostuen, director of the Office of International Programs and an associate dean.

“My sense is over the last year, there’s probably been some very important dinner-table discussions about how to best go about using the resources that a family has,” Brostuen said.

At Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., which typically sends more than 60 percent of its students abroad, study abroad enrollment this fall dropped 25 percent from the same time last year, said spokeswoman Amy Phenix.

Enrollment in abroad programs at the University of South Alabama fell dramatically this summer, possibly because students had to use all their financial aid for the regular fall and spring semesters, said Jim Ellis, director of South Alabama’s Office of International Education. For the academic year ending in summer 2009, enrollment in abroad programs dropped 50 percent.

“We’re seeing an awful lot of students who are very interested in study abroad, but virtually every one of them is asking about funding,” he said.

For generations of travel-hungry college students, the semester abroad has become a defining part of undergraduate life, in which students live immersed for months in a new culture and often return fluent in a second language and with an appreciation of life outside the United States.

But the economic decline is causing many students to rethink their plans.