Divinity School at Oxford University

Here's a stereotype: Studying abroad is for French majors. Or artists. For other students, it's an expensive time-waster, distracting them from their real education.

But where's the data? Well, 10 years ago, officials at the University System of Georgia started a longitudinal study to determine the long-term effects on students of studying abroad. The results, which have recently been released, are remarkable.

Inside Higher Ed reports some of the study's findings: 

Graduation rates. Students who had studied abroad graduated a higher rates than the control group (which was carefully selected to match the study-abroad group in several demographic categories and did not consist of merely all students who had not studied overseas). Especially notable: The four-year graduation rate for African American study-abroad students was 31 percent higher than the control group of African American students.

Grades. GPA after studying aboard rose slightly more than the control group's grades. But for study-abroad students with low SAT scores, the change was more notable: Final GPA for the low-SAT study-abroad group was 3.21, compared with 3.14 for the stay-at-home low-GPA group. 

Cross-cultural learning. Not surprisingly, study-abroad students outshine their stay-at-home colleagues when tested for how well they understand cultural contexts, and how well they do with practical intercultural skills, like navigating transit in a foreign place. On the other hand, the "abroad" group does no better than the "stay home" group on geographic knowledge.

Knowledge of individual disciplines. The stay-at-home students learn more factual knowledge than their study-abroad counterparts who take the same class from the same instructor. On the other hand, the study-abroad students do better at grasping the relevance of the material -- for example, how past events continue to shape the present.

Many theological schools have been scrapping or at least reconsidering their programs that encourage seminarians to do missions, internships, or study overseas. But before decisions are made, it's best to know the facts. This new study from the University System of George may help contribute to the knowledge needed to make good decisions.

The long article in Inside Higher Ed is available here.

The full report is available here.


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