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03/04/2014

College Joins Generation Study Abroad

SUNY Cortland has announced its goal to double the number of students that experience studying abroad before the end of the decade.

The College has committed to join Generation Study Abroad, a nationwide effort to ultimately get thousands more American students to graduate with the international experience necessary for success in a globalized world.

Reaching this goal means that by 2019, more than 28 percent of the College’s undergraduate and graduate students would venture outside America’s borders to expand their intellectual horizons, according to Mary Schlarb, SUNY Cortland’s director of international programs. In 2011-12, 14.3 percent of the College’s undergraduate and graduate students traveled abroad for a semester of study, course, class project, internship or service learning opportunity.

“Yes, it is a bold and somewhat daunting goal to commit to doubling our numbers by 2019 from the baseline year of 2011-12,” said Schlarb. “But it will motivate us to explore new ways to encourage students and increase access to study abroad, particularly for those students who are underrepresented, whether for financial reasons or because they have competing priorities, as is often the case for athletes, non-traditional students or students from certain disciplines.”

The Institute of International Education (IIE), an independent not-for-profit organization founded in 1919, announced Generation Study Abroad on March 3.

Among the world’s largest and most experienced international education and training organizations, the institute aims to increase the number of U.S. college students enrolled in credit or non-credit programs in other countries to 600,000 by its anniversary year 2019. The institute is recruiting 500 institutions of higher education across the U.S. and SUNY Cortland is among the first 150 lead partners.

During the last decade SUNY campuses overall have increased the student participation rate in study-abroad programs, averaging a little over 13 percent in 2011-12, the most recent year for which aggregate SUNY data is available.

According to a 2013 study published by the institute in partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, 295,000 college students in the U.S. studied abroad in 2011-12. This represents only about 10 percent of the 2.6 million students who graduated with associate or baccalaureate degrees.

SUNY Cortland has been steadily improving by this measure and now does considerably better than that. The College’s unofficial 2012-13 data suggests that approximately 19 percent of all students, nearly 275 academic adventurers, studied in another country that year.

“We got it going again. We’re stirring it up,” said Schlarb, who joined the College as the assistant director in early 2010.

“Several years ago, International Programs greatly stepped up its efforts to inform students about the availability of 600 programs of study around the world,” she explained. “The office presents Study Abroad 101 information sessions twice a week during the semester and students are required to attend one first before speaking with a study abroad advisor.”

The College has added a spring Study Abroad Fair, which offers one-stop information about international travel opportunities.

Two separate offices, International Programs and the James M. Clark Center for International Education, take a more integrated approach with faculty on raising the visibility and popularity of pursuing studies in another country.

“Faculty engagement is essential,” Schlarb said. “There is no way we could sustain this without the faculty helping students understand that this is a valuable enterprise. We want the message to be integrated into the curricula across the campus: the importance of study abroad.”

Eighty times last fall, faculty invited students who have returned from traveling abroad into their classrooms as Cortland study abroad promoters (CSAPs). Several faculty members take entire classes to another country for an academic or civic engagement-related learning experience.

Other individuals on the faculty have formed ties with international university partners so both institutions can maximize the affordability of scholar exchange programs. Professor of Philosophy Mecke Nagel, for example, works diligently to expand a very active exchange program at a university located in her native community in Germany, Fulda University of Applied Sciences.

“From the get-go, Cortland students have attended Fulda — good programs, word-of-mouth and much more generous scholarship money from Fulda than (possibly) any other exchange partner we have,” Nagel said. “Obviously, it helps to have a faculty member who returns every semester to Fulda — as I have done since 2008 — to keep the partnership strong.”

Word is getting out about the affordability and availability of scholarships to offset the costs, Schlarb said.

study abroad - mountain view
A SUNY Cortland student enjoys a majestic view as she incorporates study abroad as part of her academic experience.

Moreover, the generosity of SUNY Cortland faculty, emeriti faculty, alumni and friends coupled with financial efficiency on the part of International Programs means that more awards are available that target students in need of funds to offset their tuition differences, travel and living expenses outside the U.S.

SUNY Cortland students think the College’s Generation Study Abroad challenge is timely.

“I was done with learning about other cultures in a book, looking at pictures on the Internet or watching TV,” said Ryan A. Walker, a senior physical education major from Hampton Bays, N.Y. “I was ready to take the step out of my comfort zone and experience all of the above in real life.”

In 2013 he did just that in Cologne, Germany.

“You’re young, you have the world ahead of you, you’re not tied down to anything, why wouldn’t you study abroad?” observed LeighMarie Weber, a senior speech and hearing science major from Mineola, N.Y., who studied in Ghana. “It’s the perfect, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it will be the best decision you ever make.”

With Generation Study Abroad, SUNY Cortland also commits to launching new initiatives that include scholarships, innovative new support services, promoting alternatives to classroom experiences, encouraging underrepresented students to study abroad, and creatively engaging study abroad alumni.

Meanwhile, the institute will contribute $2 million to scholarships for the most outstanding campus programs. Eventually, it will bring together leaders in secondary education, business and governments that are also willing to commit to specific, measureable actions to help reach this ambitious milestone.