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New York City
March 2004

American Students Study Abroad in Growing Numbers

Despite a weak economy and post-9/11 concerns, American students continue to regard study abroad as a critical component of their higher education experience. The number of U.S. university-level students receiving credit for study abroad in 2001/02 increased 4.4% from the previous year, reaching a record total of 160,920, according to Open Doors 2003, the annual report on international education published by the Institute of International Education (IIE) with funding from the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Open Doors 2003 reports that the 4.4% increase in U.S. students abroad in academic year 2001/02, while not as steep a growth rate as the previous year's 7.4% increase, is still a strong indicator of the tremendous interest in study abroad, especially given the challenging economic and geopolitical context in which students were making their study abroad decisions. On the whole, study abroad has been increasing dramatically in recent years, with four years of double-digit growth in the "boom" years of the late 1990s. Since 1991/92, the number of students studying abroad has more than doubled (from 71,154 to 160,920, an increase of 126%).

In response to the latest study abroad figures, Patricia S. Harrison, Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, which funds the Open Doors report said, "We are gratified by the continuing increase in the number of U.S. students studying abroad. A 4.4% growth is extremely encouraging, and shows that American students continue to recognize that preparation for success in a global future needs to include overseas study.  And the reports from American campuses suggest that the trend is toward even greater growth ahead. Overall, the numbers demonstrate quite clearly that students realize that the world of tomorrow will require everyone to be globally aware and conversant."

IIE is working with campuses and US government and private sponsors to reduce the financial hurdles for study abroad, and to assist students in acquiring skills and experience in countries and areas of the world critical to the future security of our nation. The Fulbright Student Program, the U.S. government's premier public diplomacy exchange program, which IIE has administered on behalf of the U.S. State Department for over 56 years, annually sends over 1,000 American students to over 140 countries around the world, providing funding for career-launching study or research abroad to be conducted after graduation from an accredited university. In 2001, Congress created the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program for undergraduates, to provide scholarships of up to $5,000 for study abroad to students receiving federal financial aid. The program (www.iie.org/gilman/) is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and administered by IIE. Nearly 6,500 students have applied for Gilman Scholarships to date, and the program has assisted over 850 students from a wide range of economic and ethnic backgrounds to go to a wide variety of non-traditional destinations.

The National Security Education Program David L. Boren Undergraduate Scholarships (http://www.iie.org/nsep/) have enabled more than 1,750 students to study over 60 languages in over 65 countries since 1994. NSEP focuses on less commonly taught languages and countries of the world underrepresented in study abroad. IIE's Freeman Awards for Study in Asia program (www.iie.org/programs/freeman-asia/) assists financially needy U.S. undergraduates who wish to study in East or Southeast Asia. This program has already provided scholarships to over 1,500 students, and will offer support to an additional 1,100 U.S. students by 2005. The impact of the Freeman-Asia grants are specifically reflected in the strong increases in the number of US students going to China and Japan in recent years. All of these scholarship programs are serving to increase students' language proficiency and encourage a growing awareness of cultures outside of English-speaking countries and Western Europe.

"The continuing and strong increase in study abroad is especially important against the backdrop of today's headlines. Having our successor generation learn more about other countries and societies–while serving as cultural ambassadors to their peers–enables young Americans to contribute directly to creating a more peaceful world," commented IIE President Allan E. Goodman.

Open Doors 2003 indicates that most students continue to study abroad for shorter sojourns (many for less than eight weeks), with more than 50% of U.S. undergraduates and masters degree students electing summer, January term, internships, and other short-term programs instead of academic year or semester programs. Most American students who studied abroad in 2001/02 (91%) did so for one semester or less.#

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