A US university has scrapped an ambitious student mobility target in a bid to improve the quality and diversity of its study abroad programmes.
Martha Johnson, assistant dean of learning abroad at the University of Minnesota, said that the institution was one of the first US universities to set an outbound student mobility target; in 2000, it launched a campaign to send 50 per cent of students abroad.
However, the university has now become one of the first to scrap such a goal, she said, after increasing the share of mobile students from 8 per cent of the student population, about 715 students, to 38 per cent, about 4,050 students, between 2000 and 2017.
“The 50 per cent goal has outgrown its usefulness,” she said during the session “Do Mobility Targets Hit the Mark?” at the European Association for International Education’s annual conference.
She said that this was in part because the “current leadership” was “not…as supportive in funding this [goal] as actively”, but also because “we wanted to change the conversation and…move to quality” of study abroad programmes.
The new strategy also means that the university can focus more on ensuring that a diverse range of students participate in mobility programmes and that all students who are interested in going abroad can do so.
“We have had a commitment to make sure that the percentages for participation are the same as our percentages on campus and we are finally there, as of this year, and that is a great point of pride – to say that who is on campus is reflected in who is going abroad,” she said.
However, Dr Johnson stressed that she was not against mobility targets.
“The goal was the engine and the driver – we never would have got to where we are without the goal…We couldn’t have the nuanced conversations we are having now if we had not had that catalyst to get us to where we are,” she said.
While numerous studies have shown the academic and employability benefits of studying abroad, one of the barriers of convincing students to participate can be the length of time it adds on to a degree programme.
However, Dr Johnson said that research at the institution found that students who go abroad while studying at Minnesota graduate quicker.
“We ran the regression studies and actually found out that students who go abroad – and this has been true in every single college, every demographic, every socio-economic [background] – graduated in a more timely fashion than those who don’t,” she said.
Students at the institution “get resident credit for everything they do abroad”, which has “changed how faculty perceive the activity as well”, she said.