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Latino Daily News

Wednesday February 23, 2011

Few Minority Students Studying Abroad, Educators Want to Change This

Educators are pushing for more students of color to study abroad, and are helping students work out the finances to take part in what many call a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

According to educators, foreign study is crucial to student development, but very few minority students take part in such programs, despite their presence at universities.

Blacks make up 4.2 percent of study-abroad students, yet comprise about 13.5 percent of the overall college population. Latinos are a little better, as they make up roughly 6 percent of the abroad students while making up 12 percent of the college population. Asian-Americans are doing well in this context, as they represent 7.3 percent of those abroad and 6.8 percent overall. Still, 81 percent of students participating in foreign study programs are white, while being around 63 percent of higher education students.

Augustana College researcher Mark Salisbury believes that better marketing towards minorities could help, and says instead of showing the program as an necessary cultural experiences, schools could stress it as a path toward self-reliance and independent thinking.”

In a study to be published next month by Research in Higher Education, Salisbury, along with two other authors, state, “Minority students don’t need to seek out cross-cultural experiences by traveling to another country because in most cases — especially as students at majority white postsecondary institutions — they already interact across cultural differences every day.”

Since 2001, low-income Pell Grant recipients have been provided with study-abroad funds by way of the Congressionally funded Gilman Scholarship. Last year, according to the Institute of International Education about 55 percent of Gilman scholars were minorities.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) created a bill attempting to create the Sen. Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation, an $80 million entity that would award grants to both students and institutions. Simon is a late Illinois legislator that pushed for the increase in funding for foreign study.

In 2009, while re-introducing the Sen. Simon Foundation bill, Sen. Durbin said, “Expanding study abroad should be a national priority. The future of the country depends on globally literate citizens who are at ease in the world.”