American students attracted to studying overseas by a wide range of options

by Ray Clancy on April 27, 2016

More college students in the United States are pursuing a broader range of international educational activities as studying overseas becomes more popular, according to a new report.

In particular, “non-credit” education abroad (NCEA) is rising despite the fact that the student do not receiving academic credit for them, says the study by the Institute of International Education (IIE).

While educators surveyed in IIE’s new report agree that the landscape of international experiential learning is growing (NCEA) activities are largely under reported, despite the fact that they advance the colleges’ mission of preparing their students to live and work in a global economy.


The IIE study found that students are pursuing a range of NCEA activities that go beyond non-credit work, internships and volunteer abroad (WIVA) including conducting research or field work, presenting at academic conferences, competing in athletic events, and engaging in the performing arts.

Latin America is the most popular overall region for NCEA activities. Mexico was the most popular destination attracting 12% of students, followed by China with 7% and Nicaragua with 5%.

Most students participated in volunteer or service learning activities. Travel seminars or study tours were the second most popular NCEA activity, followed by research or field work, and internships or work abroad and religious missions. Language study was the least popular type of non-credit experience, comprising only 0.3% of students.

Universities attributed the growth of Non-Credit Education Abroad activities to several factors, including student interest in gaining international work experience, the flexibility NCEA offers students to gain international experiences without impacting their studies and lower costs.

“Students have a strong interest in experiential learning outside of the traditional classroom model, and not receiving academic credit does not appear to be deterring them,” said Dr Rajika Bhandari, IIE’s deputy vice president for research and evaluation.

“The time is now for higher education institutions to have deliberate conversations about their study abroad policies and goals, and to take part in the dialogue to help standardise the categories and definition of NCEA so that we can capture this data and produce meaningful analysis to the field,” he added.

Educators have indicated that students are already re-defining what it means to study abroad. Data shows that some 304,000 US students received academic credit for study abroad in 2013/2014, and for 19,000 of these students, their for credit study abroad experiences included work or internships.

However, it is increasingly clear that more US students are also engaging in a range of additional experiential activities for which they do not receive academic credit.

According to Daniel Obst, IIE’s deputy vice president for international partnerships in higher education it important for higher education institutions to capture the full range of students’ international educational activities, especially as colleges and universities form strategies to boost study abroad participation.

He explained that in order to be prepared to provide international experiences that meet growing student demand, colleges and universities will need to actively seek information on what their students are already pursuing overseas.

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