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CIC Education Abroad: “If It Matters, Count It. If It’s Counted, It Matters.”

Feb 26, 2014

The CIC Study Abroad Directors’ Group is undertaking a major benchmarking initiative that promises to inform the national picture of education abroad, as well as the institutional structures and support for overseas learning within CIC schools. Launched in May 2012, the CIC International Learning Mobility Benchmark began capturing a wide set of metrics that cover student participation, program management, as well as funding and support. The group piloted the study last year and foresees implementing the benchmarking annually.

The impetus to benchmark learning abroad activities within the CIC can be explained in several ways. First, on a national scale, the International Institute of Education (IIE) produces an annual report on international mobility called Open Doors. It is the definitive data source in the U.S. for credit-bearing study abroad and full-degree international students to the U.S. In recent years the learning abroad community has seen significant growth in the number of students undertaking overseas learning without academic credit, but it has been challenging to develop adequate reporting systems as some of this activity does not flow through central university systems. Many institutions are reviewing measures to ensure adequate support for such activity.

Second, IIE’s report serves the range of several thousand institutions of higher education; whereas the long history of collaborative sharing of data within the CIC provides a more manageable platform to develop questions and approaches collectively that work for a much smaller set of relatively similar institutions.

Third, the CIC member universities enroll 9% of the U.S. credit-bearing study abroad market, as reported in the most recent Open Doors. This combination--of a small number of institutions that represent a significant data set--means that the CIC is in a unique position to benefit our member institutions and to assist the field in addressing areas that have traditionally been challenging to report.

Brett Berquist (chair, CIC Study Abroad Directors and Executive Director, Office of Study Abroad at Michigan State University) and Martha Johnson (Assistant Dean, Learning Abroad, University of Minnesota) proposed the idea for a CIC benchmark after inspiration from an Australian benchmark--an initiative of the Australian University International Directors’ Forum. The CIC group launched their initiative working with the Australian-based consulting firm, Studymove. In planning their approach, the guiding principle for the CIC Study Abroad Directors became, “If it matters, count it. If it’s counted, it matters.” Thus, the CIC’s International Learning Mobility Benchmark report focuses on three core areas for collecting data. These areas include: 

  1. Student participation. The pilot effort reported on student participation from Fall 2011 through Summer 2012. The group agreed to tackle several challenging areas:
    1. It included non-credit learning broken down into detail on most questions. IIE has seen increasing response rates and numbers on an aggregate question on non-credit activity. The CIC benchmark attempts to flesh out the detail on non-credit to a similar level of detail as for credit-bearing activity. For those institutions reviewing their strategy and systems, a Likert scale of confidence was used to encourage participants to start at their current state of knowledge and aim to increase accuracy over future cycles as strategies and systems come online.
    2. Greater categories of diversity--first-generation, high-need (Pell eligible), LGBTQ, etc.
    3. Graduate education–many member universities have noticed rising participation in graduate education abroad. Professor John Dirkx at Michigan State is leading a CIC-wide research project, along with New York University, on Graduate Learning Experiences and Outcomes. Open Doors does ask for the total number of graduate participants. The CIC study includes graduate vs. undergraduate in many additional categories.
    4. International student participation--except for two years in the early 2000s, IIE’s Open Doors report excludes non-citizens. With a significant increase in international degree students on our campuses, we have also seen an increase in those wanting to study abroad. One of our universities reported 15% of the total learning abroad participants were non-citizens.
  2. Program Management. The program management results are meant to inform resource management and improve the provision of staff time and resources based on the workload. The report traces the recruitment funnel and helps compare conversion rates through the key stages. The data thereby helps guide staffing and resources to assist with the workflow.
  3. Funding and support. The institutions quantified institutional support for learning abroad opportunities both in the aggregate and per participant. The schools also tracked external scholarships, computing the number of scholarships awarded at the undergraduate and graduate level.

The benchmarking initiative of the CIC Study Abroad Directors promises to be a revealing and meaningful examination of the fuller scope of learning abroad for each of the CIC schools and as a group. The instrument will be improved each year and a special study on our outreach through social media will be included in the 2013-14 edition.

Studymove's CIC International Learning Mobility Benchmark Public Report is available on the CIC website.

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