US universities need to highlight the academic and career benefits of studying abroad rather than focus on “life-changing experience” rhetoric if they want to increase take-up from male students.
That is the view of Samantha Brandauer, director of education abroad at Dickinson College, and Rebecca Bergren, dean for global initiatives at Gettysburg College, who have conducted research on why fewer men choose to study abroad compared with women.
According to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors 2014 report, 65.3 per cent of US students who studied abroad in 2012-13 were female – a figure that has remained relatively stable for the past decade.
Ms Brandauer and Ms Bergren’s research shows that while female students recognise the range of benefits that can be gained from studying overseas, male students’ “bro mentality” means that they are more likely to want to stay on campus for the duration of their course.
“Women are much more fluid in terms of their ability to move between social groups, whereas it tends to take men a while to find their thing, be it sports, fraternity, friends, and when they do they are reluctant to leave the comfort of that,” Ms Brandauer said. “They derive a lot of status from having found their role so think ‘why rock the boat by studying abroad?’”
She added: “They won’t say this is why – they will come up with reasons like the subject of their major or athletics keeping them on campus – but these are in fact excuses as they don’t seem to be a deterrent for women. If you look at male-dominated subjects you are still seeing a much larger percentage of women who study abroad.”
Ms Brandauer said “part of the issue” is that universities discuss study abroad programmes “experientially”, which “doesn’t necessarily resonate as well with men”.
“We’re trying to change the message to highlight that if you study abroad you can get a job or have more research opportunities, to make it more goal-oriented rather than experience-oriented,” she said.
“[The gender imbalance] is something universities are aware of but I don’t know many campuses that are working hard to change that culture.”
Ms Bergren added that while altering the discourse on study abroad is important, the solution involves more than marketing. “Just changing the marketing will not necessarily change the percentage of men studying abroad as it will also increase female participation,” she said.
She added that lengthy and “unnecessary” paperwork and high grade point average requirements are also more likely to be major barriers to male students going abroad compared with female students.
“Males have a lower GPA than females. So if institutions are randomly, in my view, saying you need a [GPA of] 3.0 for participation it immediately takes a huge amount of males out of the pool,” she said.