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USG Wins $547,000 Federal Grant To Assess Benefits of Study-Abroad Programs

Atlanta — August 9, 2006

When college students lobby their parents to spend a semester studying abroad, in the future they will have more to back up their request than saying “it will broaden my horizons.”

The University System of Georgia’s Office of International Education has received a $547,000 grant that will support a three-year comprehensive and statistically valid assessment of what students learn and how they benefit academically when they study abroad.

The federal grant, one of 21 awarded by the U.S. Department of Education’s International Research and Studies Program, will provide additional funds to expand an existing University System of Georgia (USG) research project called the “Georgia Learning Outcomes of Students Studying Abroad Research Initiative,” or GLOSSARI.

In a presentation today to the 18-member Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, Richard Sutton, director of international programs and senior advisor for academic affairs, provided background on the GLOSSARI project, its goals and purposes, as well as the status of international education in the System.

“We have long had anecdotal evidence that students who study abroad return to college more focused,” said Sutton. “With this new grant, we will use the GLOSSARI project to rigorously test that hypothesis. We also will assess what types of international programs best serve and prepare our students with the academic and critical thinking skills they will need in a global society.” The research findings will include pre- and post-academic performance measures on approximately 5,000 USG study-abroad participants. Eventually, trend-line research will be conducted, following participating USG students three to five years after graduation to assess the impact of study abroad participation in career success.

The USG provides an ideal population from which to conduct research in this area, stated Sutton. “Our System is composed of a wide range of institutions of varying size and mission. It also is comprised of a student population that is geographically, ethnically, economically and academically diverse.” Sutton said the research has short-term applications, both for the System and nationally, as well as some long-term implications for the regents as they determine broad policy for the USG’s 35 institutions.

Sutton noted, for example, that short-term, the research findings could be used by System officials to inform policy decisions aimed at improving retention and graduation rates. Nationally, the GLOSSARI research will compile “the most comprehensive assessment of study-abroad learning outcomes ever published in higher education,” he said.

Looking long-term, the USG’s efforts will be shaped by national priorities in international education, the efforts of other states to mobilize international resources for economic development, and the competition for knowledge workers with global experience.

All of these external factors mean that the regents need sound data from research initiatives such as GLOSSARI to craft policies that position Georgia as a leader in both creating an educated workforce and attracting international business and investment, Sutton said. “In the past five years, Georgia’s exports grew 41 percent to more than $20 billion in 2005,” said Sutton. “If our students don’t graduate with global knowledge and skills, we’re failing in our responsibility to prepare them well for future career opportunities.”

The timing for the USG’s research project is excellent, said Sutton, given both the new national emphasis on international education and the Board of Regents’ long-standing commitment to increasing the number of University System students participating in more than 325 study-abroad programs.

Sutton noted that a November 2005 report to the U.S. Congress from the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program recommends federal strategies to send one million students abroad annually by 2017. Meanwhile, the University System has set a target of increasing participation in its study-abroad programs to 6,200 students by 2007. During the 2004-2005 academic year, 4,823 USG students participated in study-abroad programs, reflecting an annual average increase of 15 percent over the past decade. The University System began collecting data through the GLOSSARI project on study-abroad student outcomes in 2001. The research to date indicates three major findings:

  • Students who study abroad are better able to function and navigate in complex environments such as obtaining and following directions, or negotiating with an angry person;
  • The functional knowledge and skills of students who study abroad improves 33 percent over students who have not participated in study-abroad programs; and
  • Students who study abroad remain in college to finish their degrees at significantly higher rates than those who never participate in study-abroad programs. A study of three USG state universities found that 92 percent of students who studied abroad graduated or remained in college, compared to 22 percent of those who did not study abroad.

Officials from the Board of Regents Office of International Programs will administer the new grant. Sutton will serve as the principal investigator, and Dr. Donald L. Rubin, professor of speech communications and professor of language and literacy at the University of Georgia, will serve as the GLOSSARI project director.

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