By Nina Earnest, The Daily Iowan
Despite harsh economic times, University of Iowa students are continuing to find the means to study overseas.
Nationwide, the number of students who studied abroad for credit dropped slightly in 2008-09—the first time such a decrease has occurred since the Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange first released numbers 25 years ago.
Contrary to the national decrease, the number of UI students going overseas continues to increase. Officials attribute this to the school’s strong publicity of study abroad programs and UI students’ ability to find more affordable ways to go to another country.
The institute reported in November the number of American students studying abroad decreased 0.8 percent in 2008-2009, while 5.3 percent more UI students studied abroad.
One effect to the national decrease, some say, is the result of a poor economy.
“The emphasis Iowa has put on study abroad is impressive, and it is paying off relative to many other schools in the country.”
“The serious economic challenges that American families and U.S. campuses were facing in 2008 certainly affected participation rates in study abroad that year,” Peggy Blumenthal, the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Institute of International Education, which compiles the report, wrote in an e-mail.
The economic downturn has led American students to pursue opportunities in nontraditional destinations in more affordable locations outside of Western Europe, Blumenthal said.
UI junior Robin Armstrong studied abroad in Chile last spring. She said she didn’t consider Spain — a traditional study-abroad destination — as an option because of the high cost of the programs and the high cost of living.
“College students are looking for affordability,” she said.
The UI seems to support studying abroad more than other students’ colleges, she said.
“As soon as I got [to the UI], there was a lot of encouragement,” Armstrong said.
Philip Carls, an assistant director of the Office for Study Abroad, said the increase in the number of students going abroad, despite the economy, is partly due to study abroad promotion in the university.
“The interest of the administration and institution as a whole to promote study abroad is definitely a factor in increasing numbers,” Carls said. “Study abroad is a collective enterprise.”
Peter McPherson, the president of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, said
many schools in the Big Ten made giving their students an international experience a priority. The effects have been particularly strong at the UI.
“The emphasis Iowa has put on study abroad is impressive, and it is paying off relative to many other schools in the country,” he said.
Carls said he was pleased with the UI numbers considering many people in the country have faced a “tough stretch” economically.
According to the UI 2008-09 study abroad report, 1,283 UI undergraduate, graduate, and professional students studied abroad that year.
Numbers for the 2009-10 academic year for UI students studying abroad are still being processed, Carls said, though they appear to have remained steady.