Study abroad not a panacea

Helen Hansen

The intriguing results of a study conducted by the UT Study Abroad Office found that 60 percent of UT students who study abroad graduate in four years, compared to 45 percent of non-participants, according to The Daily Texan.

There are some perceivable explanations for why the study abroad program produces such high graduation rates in its participants: It is a motivating experience and it prevents mid-college burnout — but they are not the only and certainly not the most influential reasons. Indeed, it is the students themselves and most importantly their socioeconomic status that make this impressive finding true.

It makes sense that the graduation rate could be higher for the 2,000 UT students who study abroad each year because these are the students who are more academically motivated to begin with. The University System of Georgia conducted a highly in-depth observational study that compared 19,109 study abroad students from across its university system to a control group of 17,903 academically similar students who did not study abroad, according to USA Today. The study not only found that graduation rates were higher for the study abroad students than for the control group but that the study abroad students’ average GPA of 3.24 was significantly higher than the control groups’ average GPA of 3.03. The study seems to show that students who choose to study abroad have higher GPAs even before they leave the country.

In addition, study abroad costs money, and students with higher socioeconomic backgrounds have the means to pay for study abroad, while students from a lower socioeconomic backgrounds may not have the extra cash to spend. A study by MaryBeth Walpole, an assistant professor in the Educational Leadership Department at Rowan University, determined that low socioeconomic status students “engaged in fewer extracurricular activities, worked more, studied less and reported lower GPAs than their high SES peers.” It would be difficult for low SES students to leave their jobs for a whole semester, especially those who are putting themselves through college. Though they may receive a scholarship to pay for the study abroad program, there is no guarantee that the job will be waiting for them when they return from their overseas experience. In addition to having lower GPAs than high SES students, low SES students are also less likely to graduate, according to Autumn Backhaus in her article “Socioeconomic Status and Adjustment to College”, published by the American Psychological Association. Already we can begin to see how the UT study abroad program may attract students who are more likely to graduate on time.

Moreover, the 2008 study “Going Global: Understanding the Choice Process of the Intent to Study Abroad” by Springer Science+Business Media, LLC states that socioeconomic status “influences a student’s intent to study abroad substantially from a 31-percent predicted probability of intent for students from low SES with low pre-college capital and low first-year capital to a 85-percent predicted probability of intent for students from high SES.”

While study abroad may motivate its participants to achieve higher levels of success and give them an opportunity to take a break from the routine of university life, the program itself is not solely responsible for the higher graduation rates of its participants. Students who study abroad are statistically more likely to graduate because of their backgrounds. Therefore, study abroad programs are simply a concentration of high SES students who would very likely graduate in four years regardless of whether they studied abroad.

Hansen is a Plan II and public relations freshman.