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Study Abroad: A 21st Century Perspective - Volume 1

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Still missing the boat: Faculty involvement in study abroad by Norman J. Peterson
Director, International Programs, Montana State University-Bozeman

In 1990 the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES) commissioned professors Craufurd D. Goodwin and Michael Nacht to conduct a landmark survey of the international experience of American college and university faculty. The resulting book, Missing the Boat: The Failure to Internationalize American Higher Education1, is a sobering assessment of trends affecting U.S. faculty participation in international programs. One of the few bright spots in Goodwin and Nacht's analysis was the increasing involvement of faculty in study abroad programs for American students. "Overseas programs for students," Goodwin and Nacht observe, "... perhaps combined with other devices, remain one of the most promising unexploited and even unexplored devices to provide U.S. faculty with the benefits of an international experience...."2 A decade later it is time to ask whether progress has been made in developing this unexploited and unexplored resource for expanding the global horizons of the American professoriat.

Before considering some of the central issues involved in answering this question, it is useful to review Goodwin and Nacht's findings in greater detail. Based on an ambitious series of site visits to an array of institutions around the United States, Goodwin and Nacht chronicled the barriers to getting faculty abroad. Declining funding for the Fulbright Program and other international fellowships makes overseas opportunities increasingly unaffordable. Shrinking U.S. foreign assistance and area studies programs further deplete funding sources for faculty international activities. Campus promotion and tenure policies, which frequently do not recognize and reward international work, make engaging in international activities detrimental to career advancement. The changing demographic patterns of American families, especially the prevalence of two career households, inhibit faculty mobility. Perhaps most disturbing, Goodwin and Nacht discovered a surprisingly pervasive American academic arrogance that questions the value of overseas experience. Cumulatively, these factors amount to a daunting challenge to maintaining the international skills of faculty on U.S. campuses.

Although Goodwin and Nacht identified some promising institutional models to use in combating these negative factors, the only positive countervailing trend they could find is the expansion of study abroad programs and the involvement of faculty in them. In their travels around the country to all kinds of institutions, from community colleges to research universities, they found an "explosion of interest in study abroad among students."3 Faculty leaders for these ventures abroad, Goodwin and Nacht believe, "number overall in the thousands per year."4 Unlike earlier study abroad programs, which typically involved a narrow range of faculty members from language and social science departments, the new programs Goodwin and Nacht found engage faculty members across the curriculum. The impact of this experience on faculty is profound.

"A particular characteristic of the newer study abroad program is that often the leader knows little more than the students about the place where they settle. Study abroad, then, becomes a mind-expanding experience for the leader as well as for the led. ... The effects of study abroad on the leaders themselves are seldom taken into account by institutional administrators when developing the programs, but often they are great. We hear numerous tales from study abroad veterans of career changes, research stimulation, teaching reinvigoration, and personal regeneration."5

Goodwin and Nacht see great value in exploiting further the potential of this trend.

"This is certainly one of the most obvious means to recruit the recalcitrant and to reap the benefits of serendipity. Moreover, it provides access to a source of travel funds. A natural objective could be, perhaps, to make possible the greatest gain to faculty from these experiences by providing for collateral or sequential research opportunities or other enrichments, recognizing that travel and set-up costs are already in place."6

Thus, the involvement of U.S. faculty in study abroad programs may be one of the only means available to institutions to prevent their faculty members from "missing the boat."

The accelerating pace of globalization since the publication of Missing the Boat adds urgency to the need for U.S. faculty to acquire global perspectives and international experience. Now more than ever, colleges and universities need to ensure that they are providing their graduates with the international skills they will need for borderless careers. This goal is unattainable without a faculty equipped to develop these skills.

Meanwhile, most of the trend lines Goodwin and Nacht identified have only worsened. Congress appropriated $116 million for Fulbright and other academic exchange programs administered by the U.S. Information Agency for the 1992 fiscal year, while these programs were funded at $109 million for fiscal year 1999. Little if any progress has been made in modifying institutional promotion and tenure policies to encourage and reward international activities for faculty on the tenure track. The lives of American families have continued to become more complex and less conducive to a period of time living abroad.

So, how is higher education doing in taking advantage of the opportunity to involve faculty in study abroad programs? It is difficult to know with any degree of certainty because the data available only give us a partial indication of the trends at work. What the data does tell us is that participation in study abroad has grown dramatically since the Goodwin and Nacht study was released in 1991. Extrapolating from these data, it is safe to deduce that faculty travel abroad with study abroad participants has also grown substantially.

The Institute of International Education's Open Doors survey of U.S. higher education institutions indicates that the overall number of students participating in study abroad has increased from 71,154 for the 1991/92 academic year, to 113,959 for the 1997/98 academic year (the last year for which data are available)7. This sixty percent-plus growth in study abroad since 1991 is bound to translate into a major expansion in the number of U.S. faculty members going abroad leading American students.

It is even likely that the increase in faculty involvement in study abroad is proportionally higher than the study abroad increase, since the percentage of students participating in the kinds of study abroad programs most likely to be led by a U.S. faculty member has increased substantially since 1991. Faculty members are most likely to accompany students on short-term programs (e.g. those taking place during the summer or between terms), rather than semester or longer programs. These short-term programs have increased substantially within the overall expansion of study abroad. For example, whereas 30.8% of the students who studied abroad in 1991/92 participated in summer programs, this programs. One of the main responsibilities of the "Special Programs" staff is to support faculty in taking student groups abroad, offering assistance including budgeting, recruitment, travel arrangements, orientation, health and safety issues, and awarding credits. The Special Programs unit at Montana State has been very successful in increasing interest in study abroad on the part of the faculty.

Another way to get more "bang-for-the-buck" from faculty-led programs abroad is to consider how these programs fit most effectively into the overall international education program for the institution. Are there ways to conduct these programs to obtain more impact for both the students and the faculty members? One of the most promising ways to accomplish this is to reconsider the level of students for whom these programs are designed. The tendency is for faculty to want to take advanced undergraduate and graduate students on sojourns focused on issues of major scholarly interest. But this approach does not generally accomplish as much as gearing these programs for younger students and using them as an introduction to international programs. If short-term faculty-led study abroad programs are designed for freshmen and sophomores, they can provide the foundation for a full semester or academic year program later in the student's career. This is ultimately more fulfilling for both the students and the faculty member. The student gets the benefit of a much more profound study abroad experience than that provided by the short-term group program, and the faculty member gets the satisfaction of watching the student develop through this process, knowing that their program started them on this path.

In conclusion, Goodwin and Nacht's 1991 classic survey and analysis of U.S. faculty international activity Missing the Boat still provides us with pertinent insights regarding ways in which study abroad programs can enhance the international perspectives of the faculty, at least partially counteracting the influence of trends which tend to inhibit faculty international activities. Although it is hard to define the current level of participation of faculty in study abroad, the substantial growth of study abroad over the last decade and the disproportionate increase in short-term group programs indicate that the overall number of faculty involved in these programs has been rapidly increasing. The challenge to higher education institutions, as Goodwin and Nacht pointed out nearly ten years ago, is to find ways to enhance the value of the international experience faculty have, with relatively low cost expenditures. There certainly are ways in which faculty-led study abroad programs can be more effective if carefully planned within the overall context of an institutional international education program. Clearly, international programs offices have "missed the boat" to some extent in not taking full advantage of the potential offered by the growing involvement of faculty in study abroad programs. Another decade should not go by without taking full advantage of Goodwin and Nacht's suggestions.


1 Craufurd D. Goodwin and Michael Nacht, Missing the Boat: The Failure to Internationalize American Higher Education, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge), 1991.

2 Ibid. p. 15.

3 Ibid., p. 14.

4 Ibid., p. 15.

5 Ibid., pp. 14-15.

6 Ibid., pp. 15-16.

7 Open Doors 98/99: Report on International Educational Exchange, (Institute of International Education, New York), 1999, p. 58.

8 Ibid., p. 62.

9 Ibid.

Next article: Building Diversity into Study Abroad Programs by Connie Perdreau

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