By Dane S. Claussen, Ph.D., MBA
Manager of University Relations
Athena Study Abroad
Study Abroad Matters: Linking Higher Education to the Contemporary Workforce through International Experience was published in 2018 by the Institute for International Education (IIE) and the AIFS Foundation.
This “Global Education Research Report” is divided into three main sections (plus Introduction and Conclusion): “How Employers View Study Abroad,” “How Students View Study Abroad,” and “Connecting the Dots,” with the latter’s subsections on language acquisition, diversity and study abroad, and the value of diversity for employers. The report’s first section summarizes the results of surveyed study abroad alumni who said that their experience helped them with various skills or knowledge areas, and of surveyed employers globally who said that they value study abroad experience among employees (and that they are doing more international hiring).
The second section summarizes data and conclusions from well known (for example, Gaining an Employment Edge, or AIFS Study Abroad Outcomes) and lesser known reports on study abroad alumni.
Studies cited in this report have limitations. One major shortcoming is data not based on studies with control groups. For example, Study Abroad Matters states that a previous report concluded, “establishing intentional goals prior to going abroad and reflection on skills developed through study abroad has a greater influence on employability after graduation,” but students who do not study abroad also surely benefit from setting intentional goals and then reflecting on them (e.g., a journalism student who strategizes about campus media work and off-campus internships, completes the work, and then reflects on her work.)
Another research concern is that a study abroad alumnus also would have a tendency to overestimate outcomes of an experience that was unique or unusual, substantial in terms of time commitment and cost, immersed in another culture and country, valued in her own society, supported by her educational institution, memorably emotional, and more.
Studies that survey employers in multiple countries need to be divided by country because of differences in education systems, economies, cultures, patterns in study abroad and more. (For similar reasons, students from multiple countries also cannot be grouped together.) Employers need to be studied more about why they value study abroad experience, whether study abroad experience is merely correlated with other desirable characteristics in employees, whether they have evidence (not only perception) of skills and knowledge among employees due only to study abroad experience, etc. Likewise, surveys of students need to drill down more into skills and knowledge acquired abroad, and connections with their careers; anecdotal and other intangible evidence suggests many benefits of study abroad (especially long-term study abroad), but social scientific evidence of cause-effect relationships—controlling for other variables—is much more difficult to obtain. Study Abroad Matters includes an important recommendation for long-term research on student employment outcomes after graduation, but that is not the only research still waiting to be undertaken.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Dane Claussen will be presenting, “Study Abroad and Employment: A Proposed Research Agenda,” on October 26, at the Pennsylvania Council for International Education (PACIE) conference in State College, PA.