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William & Mary maintains its leadership in study abroad among public universities

William & Mary ranks fourth among public universities in the nation in study-abroad programs, according to the 2021 Open Doors® report released Nov. 15 by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. During the 2019/2020 academic year, by IIE criteria, 410 William & Mary undergraduate students studied abroad for academic credit during their undergraduate careers. IIE calculates this to be a participation rate by time of graduation of 27%.

William & Mary has consistently ranked highly, ranking first for nine times over the last 13 years. Before the pandemic, during the 2018/2019 academic year, by IIE criteria, 857 William & Mary undergraduate students studied abroad for academic credit, a 55% participation rate by time of graduation per IIE’s calculation.

William & Mary also ranks eighth nationally for long-term study abroad participants among all doctoral-granting universities.

“Notwithstanding unprecedented global disruption under pandemic conditions, William & Mary remains among the national leaders in study abroad participation rates among public universities,” said Stephen E. Hanson, Vice Provost for Academic and International Affairs.  “This is a true testament to the enduring commitment of our students, faculty, and staff to the cause of global education.”

Study abroad at William & Mary: Prioritizing opportunity, diversity and accessibility

William & Mary’s Reves Center for International Studies offers students a diverse selection of study-abroad opportunities through the Global Education Office (GEO), including more than $700,000 annually for study-abroad scholarships as one of many efforts to reduce financial barriers. Students receive support, information, resources and guidance on various study-abroad programs and international university exchanges through GEO, which also provides workshops, peer advising and re-entry assistance for students returning from their study-abroad experience.

New in 2021 is the Colin Powell Global Engagement Scholarship, an endowed fund in honor of in the Gen. Colin L. Powell D.P.S. ’88, to begin awarding scholarships in the 2024-2025 academic year to at least six outstanding students who seek to study abroad. 

“Despite the many challenges the pandemic has presented to global mobility, the W&M community’s deep commitment to global education has been unwavering. Some students continued to study abroad in the last 20 months and programs pivoted to remote format during the peak of the pandemic,” said Sylvia Mitterndorfer, director of global education for the Reves Center. “We see tremendous excitement and interest from our students to study abroad and expect to return to pre-pandemic participation once study abroad and travel become more widely possible again.”

The effect of the global pandemic on study abroad generally

According to Open Doors®, The COVID-19 global pandemic affected U.S. study abroad programs across the country, and to all global destinations, resulting in a 53% decline overall. In the 2019/20 academic year, 162,633 American students studied abroad for academic credit.

Declines in U.S. study abroad programming occurred primarily during the 2020 spring and summer durations. Summer programs, which comprised 39% of all U.S. study abroad programming in 2018/19, decreased by 99% in 2019/20.

During spring 2020, 867 U.S. higher education institutions launched emergency efforts to return students to the United States, bringing a reported 55,000 students home from their studies early amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to these efforts, U.S. study abroad programs were able to pivot and offer alternative modes of study abroad. For example, 242 institutions reported offering online global learning experiences to over 10,400 students. William & Mary offered virtual meetings, classes and experiences in Cambridge as well as in Geneva. The Global Education Office also made process innovations, such as virtual advising and office visits.

"Our commitment to Americans studying abroad is a commitment to our collective future,” said Ethan Rosenzweig, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Academic Programs, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State. "As study abroad slowly returns, we must recommit ourselves to ensuring that study abroad becomes ever more accessible to, and reflective of, the rich diversity of the United States."

The U.S. remained open to international students during the COVID-19 pandemic

In the 2020/21 academic year, 914,095 international students pursued studies at U.S. colleges and universities, a decrease of 15% from the previous academic year. These students represented 5% of all students in U.S. higher education and, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, contributed $39 billion to the U.S. economy in 2020.

More than 710,000 international students enrolled at the undergraduate, graduate, and non-degree levels from more than 200 places of origin. In addition, more than 200,000 international students pursued OPT, a welcome opportunity for students to gain practical work experiences in the U.S. after academic study.

"International students are central to the free flow of ideas, innovation, economic prosperity, and peaceful relations between nations," said Matthew Lussenhop, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State.

International students at William & Mary: A truly global community

The International Students, Scholars & Programs (ISSP) office at the Reves Center interacts with more than 1,000 students, scholars, alumni and dependents annually. William & Mary currently has close to 600 international students enrolled, both graduate and undergraduate students, across multiple disciplines and professional schools. They represent more than 60 countries.

Eva Wong, director of International Students, Scholars and Programs (ISSP) at the Reves Center, notes that the significance of an international academic community lies at the core of the mission of William & Mary.

“International student enrollment in the U.S. has been significantly impacted by the global pandemic. However, two years into the pandemic, the university is beginning to see rebounding numbers. As William & Mary move towards Vision 2026, I am confident that we will continue to be innovative in raising our national and global profile.”

The impact of W&M’s global community also has an economic impact on the region. According to data from NAFSA: Association of International Educators, international students and scholars in the Williamsburg area in 2020-2021 had more than a $30.5 million impact on the 2nd U.S. Congressional District’s economy, supporting 405 jobs.