When I last checked, GoAbroad.com had 17,823 verified programs and 12,277 reviews. Abroad101.com had 27,200+ program reviews. The programs that are most visible are those paying big bucks for advertising. Indeed, study abroad has evolved into big business, and although many of us educators never liked or agreed with this, there’s nothing we can do to stop it. Even university presidents and provosts seem to be much more focused on quantity than on quality these days. “Show me the numbers,” they say. “Get that percentage higher,” they mandate. Most employers agree that students hanging out with other American students in another country, partying hard, and providing cash to their home institutions isn’t valuable to their search for global competence. It takes the right experience and the right attitude to make intercultural learning and global citizenship a possibility.
Back in the year 2000, when I started working in the field of study abroad, the Internet was relatively new and international education was growing. NAFSA: The Association of International Educators was getting too big and catering more to international student services than to study abroad. Many of us study abroad professionals wanted more attention and focus, and on November 28, 2001, Kathleen Sideli (who was then the Associate Director Office of Overseas Study at Indiana University) sent a message out to our listserv Secuss-L: “This is to announce The Forum on Education Abroad, a new organization dedicated exclusively to education abroad…” On January 13, 2002, Sideli sent another message in search an Executive Director and Strategic Planner. Then came the first annual meeting during the NAFSA conference in San Antonio, on Thursday, May 30, 6:00-7:30 p.m. in the Marriott River Center.
During the internet explosion, the number of study abroad programs grew exponentially and access got a lot easier. Quantity was catapulting in front of quality. Some of us knew what was coming, and the Forum on Education Abroad announced “a continuing and firm commitment to quality education abroad” (Secuss-L archives, September 16, 2002). They appointed an Advisory Council comprised of five committees that lined up with the goals of the organization (i.e. Standards of Good Practice, Curricular Development and Academic Design, Outcomes Assessment and other Research, Data Collection, and Advocacy).
Today, the Forum on Education Abroad stands as the authority on quality assurance in study abroad and their Standards of Good Practice is used by study abroad offices around the United States, but it’s still more for us professionals and our institutions than it is for students. It offers us a quality assurance recognition program (QUIP), but this process is very expensive, takes a lot of time, and as a result, may be prohibitive to many. We list QUIP-recognized programs in our directory, but there are plenty of good quality programs out there that don’t have QUIP recognition, and we’ve made it the mission of Study Abroad Map to expose more of them as we further sculpt the idea of quality in education abroad.
It should come as no surprise that cost and size are not reliable indicators of quality programming, although they may be indicators of value. Popularity and “popular reviews” is also not a great indicator of quality. There are plenty of high quality education abroad programs with very few students. A quality study abroad program for you may be different for someone else. In this sense, quality is what you make your study abroad experience by matching your specifically-defined learning and research goals with a program facilitates the development of intercultural competence and global citizenship. Quality study abroad must have a strong learning component and some level of cultural immersion; otherwise, there’s no real difference between international education and a touristic vacation which you can get on your own.
It’s time to look at quality with mainstream chic lenses, in a new softer light. If you’re interested in joining us, feel free to contact me as we move forward. Quality is the future of education abroad.
Founder of StudyAbroadMap.com