Students who study abroad tend to graduate faster, study finds

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Sixty percent of UT students who study abroad graduate in four years, compared to 45 percent of non-participants, according to a study by the assistant director of the Study Abroad Office.

A University task force, assembled by President William Powers Jr. in July is looking for ways to increase UT’s 51 percent four-year graduation rate, according to a separate study by associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Marc Musick.

At an open forum about the task force last month, Musick said some people think study abroad hinders the amount of time it takes students to graduate, but he said the study by Heather Barclay Hamir, director of the Study Abroad Office, shows that it has the opposite effect.

“This is a common perception, that it slows time to [earn a] degree, and what she found is that’s just not true,” Musick said.

Hamir said the study is quantitative research, so the results do not explain the reason for the results, but there does appear to be a correlation between graduating in four years and participating in programs like study abroad.

“When students participate in these enriching educational activities, it deepens their educational experience, and that causes students to stay at that university,” Hamir said.

According to Hamir’s study, differences in the likelihood of graduating from UT were not attributable to motivational factors or differences in academic performance.

“What my research shows is that there’s something about study abroad different from academics that’s keeping them at the University until graduation,” Hamir said.

She said the cost of many study abroad programs include expenses that students would also have living in Austin and attending UT. Hamir said scholarships are available for students who want to study abroad, and there are a variety of study abroad programs that range in cost.

“The more flexible you can be about where you go, the more options you’ll have so you can fit it into your financial comfort zone,” Hamir said.

She said it takes planning for study abroad to be integrated into a student’s four-year degree plan.

“We’re trying to reach freshmen so they have the information in order to plan,” Hamir said.

Advertising junior Casey Lewis studied abroad last summer with the Hong Kong International Advertising Maymester. Lewis said she understands the study’s results because the study abroad process takes planning.

Lewis said she and her classmates on the Maymester created an advertising campaign geared at Hong Kong culture. She said she is developing similar advertising campaigns in her classes this semester and said the experience in Hong Kong translates to these projects.

“I feel like I’m more prepared for my classes,” Lewis said. “I think it was harder over there because it was a totally different culture, but I’m doing it for my own culture so it seems easier.”

She said the trip further sparked her interest in completing her degree on time so she can travel to Asia again when she enters the workforce.

“It definitely lit the fire,” Lewis said. “When you’re in school you’re tied down, but when you graduate you’re able to do whatever you want and go wherever you want.”

Printed on Monday, October 17, 2011 as: Study abroad found to improve graduation rate