By Dane S. Claussen, Ph.D., MBA
Manager of University Relations
Athena Study Abroad
Gaining an Employment Edge: The Impact of Study Abroad on 21st Century Skills & Career Prospects in the United States, by Christine Farrugia and Jodi Sanger, was published by the Institute of International Education in October 2017.
This study sought to “investigate the connection between study abroad programs and the development of skills that contribute to employment and career development in today’s workforce.” A mixed methods study, it included 4,565 valid survey responses, plus 30 in-depth interviews, about 15 job-related skills. Subjects, who had studied abroad over the last 20 years, were located by working with six study abroad organizations and companies. The study found that “the largest portion of respondents reported developing a broad range of cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal skills to a significant degree through study abroad, namely: intercultural skills, curiosity, flexibility & adaptability, confidence, self-awareness, interpersonal skills, communication, problem solving, language, tolerance for ambiguity, and course or major-related knowledge. Teamwork, leadership, and work ethic were also reportedly developed or improved, but less significantly.” Respondents also said that study abroad expanded their career possibilities, provided them with skills that are having a “long-term impact on career progression and promotion,” and longer term study abroad programs have a “high impact” on subsequent job offers and skill development. In addition, the study found that STEM majors highly valued skills developed by study abroad, choosing a less common destinations was especially valued, and “student intentionality and highly structured programs contribute to skill development.” The study has many limitations despite the large sample size. The sample was neither a random sample nor a universe sample, although it was fairly representative. The study reports, “Data collection took place over a limited time period and participants were asked to reflect back on their past experiences, rather than a longitudinal study that tracked students before, during, and after their study abroad experiences and progression through the workforce. Secondly, participants self-selected to participate in the study and their perceptions were self-reported, leading to possible bias in the data. Lastly, this study was conducted based on a cross-section of study abroad alumni without a comparison control group of students who had not studied abroad.” Self-reported perceptions of a life event as significant (exciting, time-consuming, often unique, sometimes expensive, etc.) as study abroad (particularly long-term) are highly likely to be favorably biased in multiple ways except for participants who had a negative study abroad experience.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Dane S. Claussen will be presenting, “Study Abroad and Employment: A Proposed Research Agenda,” on Sept. 26, at the Pennsylvania Council for International Education (PACIE) conference in State College, PA.