Last week, the first annual IIE Summit on Generation Study Abroad brought together university and business partners with the aim of doubling the number of U.S. students who experience study abroad by the end of the decade.

The summit is a multi-sectoral platform to engage commitment partners, including U.S and non-U.S higher education institutions, the K-12 community, foreign language community, study abroad organisations, education associations, private sector corporations and foundations, and U.S and foreign government partners.

One of the major ideas to come out of this year’s summit was that in order to make study abroad more inviting and feasible among students hoping to study in the States, university and business leaders should ensure the overall experience is relevant to the career students hope to pursue upon completion of their studies.

Studying abroad provides such an advanced knowledge and skill set that it is a sure-fire way to get noticed in today’s competitive jobs market; whether it is earning a professional certificate, going through a management or corporate training programme or earning an advanced degree, seeking higher education abroad can serve as an invaluable boost up any career ladder.

But in today’s increasingly globalised marketplace, jumping the barriers of higher education, such as sky-rocketing costs of tuition and living fees, becomes progressively difficult; even for those with the ambition and drive to reach the very top of their career ladder.

Meanwhile, students abroad in several European countries, for example, can earn their degree for free. Various governments around the world are investing in the younger generations and paying them to seek a quality education. As Sam Becker writes in CheatSheet, the concept of free education is unimaginable for most Americans, “and yet, it exemplifies the different perspectives people around the world have toward higher education.

“In the United States, it’s increasingly looked at as a commodity; a good (degree) or service (education) that is to be bought or sold on an open market. In other countries, it’s viewed as an investment in society.”

The Generation Study Abroad IIE Summit 2015 pledged for greater participation in study abroad programmes, proposing an initiative to increase U.S student cooperation in study abroad to 600,000 students.

According to a 2013 brief from the Institute of International Education, of more than 46,500 U.S students who pursued full degrees overseas, 84 per cent were enrolled in Bachelors or Masters degrees, while 16 per cent were in pursuit of Doctoral degrees. Furthermore, the top fields for degree study by U.S students abroad were the humanities, social and physical sciences.

These figures show that even two years ago, a large number of U.S students were opting to study abroad, encouraging many to believe that the IIE summit’s initiative can easily achieve success. There are many reasons why American students are choosing to study abroad, and cost is chiefly among them, but many are pursuing the cultural and international experience as a means of boosting their global employability.

At the summit, William Gertz, President and CEO of the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) told over 600 education professionals, from countries as diverse as Guatemala, Australia and Vietnam that: “More than ever before, students want their experience to prepare them for their future.

“Students are not only looking at the next day and month, but the future,” Gertz said, “They want study abroad to be an integral part of their lifelong journey.”

Generation Study Abroad claims that international experience is one of the most important components of a 21st century education, yet less than 10 per cent of U.S students experience study abroad. Ruth Ferguson, senior vice president and human resources executive at Bank of America Merill Lynch, explained why her company values candidates with international experience:

“When we talk to candidates, what’s important for us in global investments is people who have an understanding of different cultures, the different ways they communicate and do business.”

The development of a global understanding is not the only benefit of studying abroad; the ability to be flexible and react confidently and independently to changing circumstances is invaluable to employers. Nicole Rogers, talent manager for executive search firm, eg.1, says that studying abroad tests adaptive ability, which “helps develop an increased level of resilience” for the transition to the working environment.

The IIE-led Generation Study Abroad initiative now has more than 600 partner organisations on board, including350 U.S colleges and 100 from outside the U.S. Last week, it was revealed that more than US$185 million has been committed over the next five years to increase access to outbound study abroad within the U.S.

Image via Shutterstock.

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