William & Mary

W&M still No. 1 in undergraduate study-abroad participation

  • Experiencing new cultures
    Experiencing new cultures  W&M ranked first in undergraduate international program participation among public universities for the second year in a row.  Photo courtesy of the Reves Center
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For the second year in a row, William & Mary has the highest percentage of undergraduates participating in study abroad programs of any public university in the United States, according to a report released Nov. 17 by the Institute of International Education (IIE). William & Mary had 674 undergraduate students—or 45.8 percent—study abroad in the 2012-2013 academic year, up from 653 in 2011-2012.

The university is a leader among global education even when compared with private universities, ranking 20th in the report’s list of top 40 doctorate-granting institutions, both public and private. The only other Commonwealth school listed in the top 40 of doctorate institutions was the University of Virginia, coming in at 35th with 33.7 percent.

“William & Mary’s vision statement proclaims that people come to our university wanting to change the world—and that together, we do,” said Stephen E. Hanson, vice provost for International Affairs and director of the Reves Center for International Studies. “I can think of no better example of our global commitment than our continuing number one ranking among public universities for undergraduate study abroad participation.  With about half of our undergraduates now engaging in overseas education before graduation, study abroad is rapidly becoming the norm among our student body.”

The Open Doors report is published annually by the IIE, with funding from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The 2014 report measures the number of students who studied abroad in the 2012-2013 academic year and coincides with the 15th anniversary of International Education Week. That is a joint initiative of the U.S. departments of State and Education to prepare Americans for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experiences in the United States. 

William & Mary’s Reves Center for International Studies offers students a diverse selection and support, information, resources and guidance on various study abroad programs and international university exchanges through the Global Education Office (GEO). The GEO also provides workshops, peer advising and re-entry assistance for students returning from their study abroad experience.

“William & Mary's strength in study abroad stems from deep cooperation with academic departments to connect overseas programs with students' academic plans and the liberal arts tradition,” said Sylvia Mitterndorfer, director of global education for the Reves Center. “In addition, this year overseas scholarships have risen to more than $375,000, providing the resources to help make study abroad as accessible as possible to students interested in pursuing such opportunities.”

The report also found that more American students—a total of 289,408—studied abroad for academic credit from their U.S. colleges and universities, although the two-percent increase represents a slightly slower rate of growth than the previous year. The number of U.S. students studying abroad has more than doubled in the last 15 years.

The United Kingdom had the largest increase in the number of U.S. study abroad students. In addition, there was double-digit growth in the number of American students studying in South Africa, Denmark, South Korea, Peru and Thailand, as well as strong growth to Costa Rica and Ireland and a continued rebound in those going to Japan as programs recovered after the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.

Despite these increases, fewer than 10 percent of all U.S. college students study abroad during their undergraduate years. American students majoring in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields showed the largest increase in study abroad, up 9 percent from the prior year, outnumbering study abroad students in the Social Sciences, the second largest field, according to the IIE press release.

The overall number of international students in the United States has grown by 72 percent since the first International Education Week briefing was held in 2000. There are five times as many Chinese students on U.S. campuses as were reported in Open Doors 2000; almost two and a half times as many Indian students; seven and a half times as many Vietnamese students; and more than 10 times as many Saudi students.

“International experience is one of the most important components of a 21st century education, and study abroad should be viewed as an essential element of a college degree,” said IIE’s President Allan E. Goodman. “Learning how to study and work with people from other countries and cultures also prepares future leaders to contribute to making the world a less dangerous place."

William & Mary participates in IIE’s Generation Study Abroad, a national campaign to double the number of students who study abroad by the end of the decade. A total of 450 partners have joined the campaign to date. They include: 298 U.S. colleges and universities from 48 states; 67 higher education institutions and organizations in other countries; 16 education associations; 56 organizations including study abroad, K-12, and social network agencies; and 13 U.S. and foreign government entities, including the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. In addition to significantly expanding study abroad numbers, the campaign will also encourage and track campus activities that expand diversity in race and ethnicity, academic disciplines, destinations and gender of those who study abroad.