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Focus on first-gen study abroad, US sector told

Educators in the US should look to the needs of first-generation students when promoting study abroad opportunities, a new report from IIE has recommended.

The IIE American Passport Project is aiming to help 10,000 US students obtain passports by the end of the decade. Photo: iStock

In 2020/21, 58% of participants on the Benjamin A Gilman international scholarship program were first-gen students

By reaching underserved students with information about financial support and partnering with faculty members who can encourage first-gen students, study abroad organisations can help students become more competitive for future jobs or graduate schools, the paper suggested.

Participants can also gain social, academic and professional benefits, including “valuable practical experience to develop professional skills, resume credentials, and career preparation”, the report said.

“In many instances, the support students need most is the trust of an advisor with the knowledge and understanding to walk them through the details of the task at hand, step by step,” it noted.

It found that funding is “number one practical barrier” for first-gen student participation in study abroad. Other barriers centre around a “lack of familial support” and complexities around multiple identities first-gen students may have.

“Higher education institutions and organisations that serve college students are often set up to support student groups based on specific characteristics such as students with high financial needs, students who are people of colour, or non-traditional age students,” the report indicated.

“The intersection of these different identities can pose a challenge in designing appropriate support systems for first-generation students”

“However, first-generation students may have all these characteristics, along with their first-generation identity, none of these characteristics, or be somewhere in between. For those working with students, the intersection of these different identities can pose a challenge in designing appropriate support systems for first-generation students.”

Those interviewed as part of the research shared that often first-gen students weren’t aware that studying abroad was an option. Researchers identified the sharing of images and stories of other first-gen students participating in overseas programs as a “powerful outreach tool”.

Additionally, opportunities exist for institutions to “leverage internal and external scholarships and help students to navigate financial planning to go abroad”, the research continued.

In 2020/21, 58% of participants on the US state department’s Benjamin A Gilman international scholarship program were first-gen students, while IIE’s generation student abroad initiative has seen 63% of institutions report a focus on study abroad initiatives for first-generation students.

Institutions have also implemented a range of supports, including scholarship funding, customised programs, study abroad fairs, and campus campaigns, the report said.

Additionally, 70% of institutions receiving IIE American Passport Project funding are planning to target first-gen students in the initiative’s bid to help 10,000 US students to obtain passports by the end of the decade.

The report also warned that some study abroad offices have limited resources, affecting the ability to provide customised outreach to underserved student groups.

Some institutions are already finding ways to customise study abroad outreach to first-gen students, such as increasingly involving parents, partnering with campus advisors advising first-gen students, and “demystifying” the types of study abroad – including internships, service learning, volunteer – available to students.

It is especially pressing, as this group continues to grow within the postsecondary student population, the report continued.

“Less than 10% of first-gen students study abroad,” Angela Schaffer, executive director at the Fund for Education Abroad, wrote in the foreword.

“This paper underscores the importance of programming, education, and scholarship practitioners working together to provide entry points into and funding opportunities for global education for first-generation students.”

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