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Left behind: who is serving the other 98%?

If you randomly looked at the missions or strategic plans of 1,000 US colleges and universities, they would each – in their own way – emphasise a commitment to preparing their graduates with global and intercultural skills needed in today’s economy.

"Put another way: 'Study Abroad Inc.' is a 70-year-old startup that has failed to scale"

Yet, over the past three decades as the international education industry has professionalised – colleges, universities, and third-party providers have failed to scale the number of students participating in mobility-based global experiences like study abroad and international internships.

Shockingly, the percentage of US students who study abroad has held steady at less than 2% year over year, according to IIE Open Doors Data.

Put another way: ‘Study Abroad Inc.’ is a 70-year-old startup that has failed to scale. Its core customers have always been and continue to be the few affluent students who can afford it. That’s not good enough.

While study abroad is not the only medium in which students learn intercultural skills, it is the primary proxy we use to measure the overall success of internationalisation efforts. This leaves an elephant-sized, 98% gap in the students who are globally-ready and interculturally prepared.

Don’t misunderstand us. We believe mobility-based global experiences can be incredibly rewarding and game-changing for students when designed well. Roughly 30% of the Podium Education team studied abroad in university. We’re big fans! But the 70% who didn’t or couldn’t study abroad wish something equally valuable had been available to them.

“The 70% who didn’t or couldn’t study abroad wish something equally valuable had been available to them”

Despite all our efforts to democratise access to study abroad, many students continue to cite lack of funding, inability to travel, and hesitance to take time away from work. On a personal level, more and more college students have family obligations that prevent them from being away for a semester, a summer, or even 10 days.

Beyond that, more and more students are becoming increasingly pragmatic when determining where to invest their limited and hard-earned money and time in educational opportunities. Students are looking for a positive return on investment – both academically and professionally.

At Podium Education we believe that every college graduate – regardless of major or background – deserves a high quality education that results in a great career. Our goal is to prepare the OTHER 98% with the intercultural and tech skills needed in a globally distributed and increasingly diverse world of work.

For students who are unable to study abroad during their undergraduate degree, our flagship program, The Global Tech Experience, effectively delivers the same (if not better) intercultural learning outcomes that a student would get through their time abroad.

We’ve built a digital global learning program that is not a replacement for study abroad, but an alternative for students who do not view travel-focused programs as a good investment of time, energy, or money. This type of accessible and scalable approach to global learning is the solution to reaching the Other 98%.

In our next View From piece, we’ll breakdown exactly how we’re serving these students, our innovative digital-first learning experience, and the outcomes we’re seeing from over 6,000 students to date. Stay tuned.

About the authors: This is a sponsored post by Brooke Roberts and Chris Parrish.

Brooke is Director of Partner Marketing at Podium Education. Before joining Podium, Brooke built a 20-year career in international education. She’s the founder of Inside Study Abroad, the premiere career development platform and podcast for next generation global educators. Previously she served as Director of International Education at Johnson County Community College, Senior Vice President of, Director of Operations & Advising for Global Educators/CISabroad, and founding director of global learning at the University of South Dakota. Connect with Brooke on LinkedIn


Chris is Co-Founder and President of Partnerships at the leading experiential learning company, Podium Education. At Podium, Chris led the launch of The Global Tech Experience, an industry redefining digital program that enables students to develop both intercultural and tech skills by working on global projects from organizations like NetFlix, AirBnB and UNESCO. Podium currently partners with 52 universities across the world and will support 10,000 students in 2022. His work has been featured in Forbes, Inside Higher Ed and TechCrunch. Chris and Podium are based in Austin, TX.

Contact Chris at and connect on LinkedIn

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