Student Mobility Subcommittee - Outbound Students Working Group Report

Student mobility, which includes both incoming international students to the University of Kansas and the outlaw flow of domestic and international students to other countries to engage in education abroad activities, is often a focus of internationalization efforts. Equitable access to international education, comprehensive services and programming to facilitate student adjustment and maximize learning, and support for student entry into professional life are integral to successful student mobility endeavors. The Student Mobility Subcommittee evaluated the inbound flow of international students to KU and the outward flow of undergraduate and graduate KU students on university-affiliated international activities (study, intern, research, service, etc.). The committee explored the principal factors influencing student decision-making, barriers to student engagement, structures to facilitate and expand student opportunities and support, and recommendations for new or expanded programming and quality improvements. The committee split into two working groups (inbound/outbound). The report below summarizes the charges and key findings of the Outbound Working Group. 

Charges & Key Questions 

The Student Mobility Subcommittee – Outbound Working Group sought to develop insight into the following key questions: 

  1. What are the current levels of participation in university-affiliated international travel activities? What is the distribution of students across academic level, discipline and student demographics and how does this compare to the enrolled student population at KU?   

  1. What are the real or perceived obstacles to undergraduate and graduate student participation in international education? Do these account for enrollment gaps evidenced in the data (if applicable)? What other factors influence student engagement in education abroad? 

  1. Are there structural factors that support/impede undergraduate and graduate student engagement in international education? How can these be mitigated? 

  1. How can KU leverage international education to support student retention, engagement, and time-to-degree goals at the institution? What institutional investments would be necessary to do so? 

  1. To what extent do KU faculty and staff support student engagement in education abroad and does this impact participation rates? What incentives or disincentives exist for faculty and staff engagement in education abroad initiatives?   

Members and Invited Guests 

The following individuals served on the Student Mobility Subcommittee – Outbound Working Group: 

  • Tamara Falicov, Associate Dean for Research, CLAS 

  • Angela Perryman, Director, Study Abroad & Global Engagement (KUIA) 

  • Terry Koenig, Professor, School of Social Welfare 

  • Kate Pleskac, Graduate Academic Advisor, Math & Economics 

  • Annise Richard, Associate Director, University Academic Support Center 

  • Honorah Maggio, Undergraduate Student, Study Abroad Alumna & Student Peer Advisor 

Findings/Observations to Date 

  • KU undergraduate students are very interested in education abroad opportunities. Among survey respondents who had not yet studied abroad, 92% indicated an interest in doing so. However, in 2018-19 just 28.8% of graduating students had studied abroad during their tenure at KU. Students cited financial concerns and academic restrictions as the main obstacles to participation. 

  • Just 28% of undergraduate students participate in semester/academic year study abroad programs. While substantive learning takes place on short-duration programs (8 weeks or fewer), we need to better understand why students opt specifically for these over longer-duration opportunities, particularly given the financial value of semester programs. Intentional mapping of semester study abroad opportunities to the 4-year plan could positively impact participation in longer-duration education abroad. 

  • The population of undergraduate study abroad students approximates, but does not fully match, that of the Lawrence campus population.  Female students represent nearly 70% of undergraduate study abroad participants. Hispanic students are significantly underrepresented in the study abroad population. 

  • When controlling for differences in student background and prior academic achievement, participation in study abroad has a positive, measurable impact on 4-year graduation rates and GPA at time of degree, among other student success indicators. This impact is greater for underrepresented minority students and first-generation college students. 

  • Only 32% of undergraduate students indicated an awareness of the GAP program. 79% of undergraduates and 84% of graduate students expressed interest in study away or other domestic-based international education opportunities (GAP, virtual education abroad, etc.).  Students saw these as substantive learning opportunities, more financially viable, feasible during COVID, and accessible by those who cannot travel (DACA/undocumented, parents, etc.) 

  • Graduate students have a high degree of interest in international education—recognizing its potential value on their future academic or career success. Students who have engaged in education abroad as graduates have tended to do so on short-term programs designed for them through the professional schools. The vast majority of respondents cited a lack of information on program opportunities, limited funding (or loss of existing funding), and lack of academic alignment as obstacles to international engagement.   

  • 68% of KU staff were moderately to extremely familiar with SAGE, while 22% were slightly familiar. Staff in student-facing roles across the campus frequently speak with students about study abroad opportunities, but sought additional training and more regular updates from SAGE. 

  • On the faculty side, 41% of respondents indicated they were moderately to extremely familiar with SAGE, while 59% of respondents indicated little to no familiarity with SAGE services and operations. More communication to faculty could help in furthering faculty understanding of SAGE’s mission and mechanisms for engagement. Faculty engagement is important, as one-third of students indicated that they learned of study abroad through a faculty or staff member. 

  • Faculty respondents generally had very high perceptions of student outcomes from study abroad programming and 69% of faculty respondents indicated an interest in offering these programs. However, there are multiple barriers to making this a reality.   

  • Of those that indicated no interest in engagement with education abroad, the principal reasons were time, not within the scope of their KU employment, family/personal obstacles, insufficient financial compensation, liability concerns and lack of knowledge on this option.  

  • Faculty listed several incentives that would further encourage them to pursue study abroad or study away opportunities including better funding structures (41%) as faculty state that it is a lot of work for little compensation. If there were ways to facilitate longer study abroad opportunities that would include bringing their families with them, these would be more feasible. They requested additional support with the logistical planning and increased on-site support (32%) and time/release (20%). 

Data or Information Needed 

The Student Mobility subcommittee identified the following areas in which additional information would be helpful in crafting recommendations for future actions: 

  • Study Abroad has had a documented positive outcome on time to degree at the undergraduate level and it has a more significant effect on underrepresented minority students and low-income students. It would be useful to explore how other universities are utilizing study abroad in support of retention for their first year students. How might we look at their programs and metrics and incorporate some of their findings into models for our campus?  

  • Both KU undergraduate and graduate students participate in short-term programs at very high levels.  Additional data on why students opt for these over semester-length study abroad programs is needed. Academic alignment, perceptions of cost, student commitments, availability of programs, faculty engagement, etc. are all possible rationales. Having insight into this choice would better inform SAGE on the development and promotion of longer-duration programs. 

  • Faculty have expressed dissatisfaction with the reward structure for creating and implementing study abroad. Again, what models are in place at peer institutions, and how do these support faculty leadership of education abroad? What options outside of standard structures (summer salary, course release, etc.) might be feasible? For example, working with KU Endowment to create an unrestricted fund to support faculty travel to evaluate a site or supplemental compensation to acknowledge faculty time and effort might encourage more faculty to participate in developing and leading these programs. 

Challenges and Opportunities Revealed  

The student mobility subcommittee identified the following challenges and opportunities in conducting the self-study:  

  • If KU prioritizes a more diverse pool of students studying abroad, by extension it could be beneficial to recruit more diverse faculty to lead these programs. However, how might we locate and incentivize these diverse faculty (international, diasporic, race/ethnicity, etc.) when it is increasingly difficult to codify this. Some faculty are dual citizens, for example, but may not identify as “international” per se.  

  • Our mobility committee took a while to cohere and move forward to understand the role of international education, and this may have been attributable to the learning curve of the participants given their location in the university. To that end, when the committees were constituted, it would have been helpful to have an all-committee member meeting for those involved in the lab to receive a broad introduction to KU International Affairs and constituent units, the Area Centers, Global Operations & Security, the Office of Research, and others. It could be an in-person orientation or a write-up of the principal services and international scope of each unit. This may still be needed for Steering Committee members who will be responsible for constructing final recommendations. Do they fully understand the breadth and depth of international engagement at KU, the various actors involved, and the manner in which overlapping responsibilities are distributed across the institution?   

Preliminary Recommendations and Key Action Steps 

The Student Mobility subcommittee generated a lot of interesting data and findings, a portion of which is represented above. However, from these findings a general set or recommendations or actions steps can be drawn. Some of these require a substantive investment of human, financial, or other resources, while others can be acted upon immediately. 

  • Expand the “Mapping Study Abroad to the Major” initiative and incentivize departmental engagement. Mapping Study Abroad to the Major is a collaborative initiative between KU’s academic departments, advising units and SAGE to fully integrate education abroad programs (study, internship, research or service-learning) into the curricula for each undergraduate degree. The end goal is to remove curricular obstacles and make study abroad accessible to a greater percentage of the institution’s undergraduate students. Collaboration (with top-down encouragement) ensures alignment of international programs with curriculum and learning outcomes, develops expertise among faculty and advising staff, and creates “an expectation of study abroad” rather than study abroad as the exception.   

  • Develop short-term study abroad programming for bridge or first-year KU students. First-year programs taking place during the summer (prior to year 1), winter break, or spring break would support cohort development, connection with KU faculty and staff, and early engagement in experiential learning. Each of these positively impact student retention and engagement in support of KU strategic priorities. In addition, early engagement with international education would encourage students to consider languages, area studies, GAP certification, comparative research, or other international activities throughout their degree progression.  

  • Domestic-based international education programs provide a pathway to an internationalized degree for students who cannot travel due to immigration status, personal commitments, disabilities, or other factors. SAGE should continue a portfolio of virtual education abroad programs and explore potential for the development of “study away” through the National Student Exchange (NSE) program, faculty-led programming, or other options.   

  • Costs remain a significant obstacle to student participation in education abroad. The institution, in partnership with KUEA, should seek to expand student scholarship support for education abroad activities and directly support SAGE personnel and operating expenses (currently paid for through study abroad participant fees). Each of these would reduce the financial burden on students and increase access to study abroad. Institutional investments would also make SAGE more competitive for external grants and funding sources. 

  • Develop resources and programs to facilitate graduate engagement in international activities.  This could include the development of focused materials on the SAGE website, a graduate GAP certificate program, graduate-level study abroad programs, dual-degree programs with partner institutions abroad, or systems of support (ex. a database of international partnerships and research collaborations) to facilitate networks and international research opportunities.   

  • Improve communications and collaborations between SAGE and campus advisors to better support students at all levels. Develop use of a common tool by academic advisors and SAGE staff to track a student following referral to SAGE and to share advising notes. Explore options (Jayhawk GPS, Slate, other) and develop an implementation plan.  

  • Expand opportunities for faculty and staff professional development and training on study abroad and global engagement programming at KU (both domestic and international). This should include diverse modes of delivery, such as a Canvas mini-course, lunch-n-learn seminars, etc. that are easily accessible as new faculty and staff are onboarded.   

  • Relaunch the Advisor Site-Visits (in virtual or in-person format) to provide an on-site, experiential learning opportunity for advisors and to familiarize advisors with overseas sites and programs and the experiences of their students on study abroad.   

  • Address faculty compensation for education abroad development and leadership to ensure faculty have adequate resources and tools for program development and to incentivize engagement with KUIA and SAGE.   

Questions, Thoughts and Considerations for other Lab Subcommittees 

Several themes emerged through our work that overlap with the charges of other ACE IZN Lab subcommittees. While relevant to the areas of inquiry investigated by the Student Mobility subcommittee, these themes are likely better explored by another functional area of the Lab.  

  • KU has a diverse and internationally engaged faculty with a strong interest in developing or supporting education abroad programming for students (69% positive response in survey). However, there are real obstacles – for both faculty and students – to international travel. Having a diverse portfolio of “pathways” to an internationalized degree ensures all KU students can pursue this knowledge and skill set.  To this end, KU should explore the creation of a facilitative structure (training, mentor, funding for course redesign, etc.) to support faculty engagement in COIL (Collaborative Online International Learning). COIL connects faculty, students and classrooms from two or more institutions for collaborative work, be it a course module, full course, or other set of activities. This has been done by a very small number of faculty at KU in prior years, but could be expanded significantly. For many students, engagement in COIL would be foundational to future participation in study abroad.   

  • Surveys conducted by the Student Mobility subcommittee reveal the important role of faculty and staff in furthering student engagement in international education.  At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, participation in faculty-led study abroad programming tops all other education abroad programs.  However, faculty engagement in education abroad leadership or other collaborative activities with SAGE to expand education abroad opportunities is often a “labor of love” as compensation or recognition of effort varies widely across the KU campus.  The subcommittee recommends a further exploration of the obstacles present for faculty who desire to engage in international education (focus groups, additional data collection) the compensation structures in place across the institution for these activities, and how KU might align incentives to encourage or facilitate more faculty participation.