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Going Global: Pushing for More Study-Abroad Programs at Historically Black Colleges

At this year’s White House Conference on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, one of the sessions focused on “Going Global” and giving African-American students opportunities to study and work abroad. As research demonstrates, students who participate in study-abroad experiences during college are more likely to graduate (see the Georgia Learning Outcome for Students Studying Abroad Research Initiative report). Moreover, students who have international experience are more likely to learn a second language, more accepting of other cultures, and more comfortable with new and challenging experiences. Specifically, African-Americans who participate in study-abroad programs are 13 percent more likely to graduate from college in four years and have higher grade point averages than their peers who do not venture abroad (http://www.iercef.org/Home.asp).

Unfortunately the number of African-American students who study abroad is tiny and the number of HBCU students who have international experiences is even smaller (Institute of International Education, 2009). Lack of access to global opportunities puts Black students at a disadvantage. Unfortunately, cost prohibits many HBCUs from offering international exchange. It would be advantageous for the federal government to invest in study-abroad programs at HBCUs, as these institutions graduate 20 percent of the nation’s African-American students—students who would benefit from an international experience, global exposure, and enhanced language skills.

Also at the White House Conference on HBCUs were representatives from a new nonprofit organization specifically focused on increasing HBCU student participation in study-abroad programs. The International Education Resource Council Education Foundation (IERCEF) seeks to act as a clearinghouse for HBCU study-abroad programs. Since many HBCUs do not have the infrastructure to support large-scale international programs and partnerships with colleges and universities abroad, the IERCEF offers a central location through which HBCUs and their students can access such programs. Consortia are an innovative idea for strengthening the education of HBCU students. One need only look at the United Negro College Fund and its long history of pooling resources as an example of how HBCUs have united to overcome a lack of funding. Through programs such as IERCEF and additional support from the federal government for international opportunities, HBCU students can gain a competitive edge and enjoy richer academic experiences.

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