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Under Coleman, University sees uptick in study abroad

By Shoham Geva, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 10, 2013

Early Monday, the University announced that it now ranks tenth in a national list of universities with the most students studying abroad. The figure is significant in a way, as the University didn’t even make the list between 2002 and 2005.

The 2012 to 2013 Institute of International Education Open Doors survey showed that the University enrolled 2,060 students in study-abroad programs in 2011-2012, a 6 percent increase over the previous period.

One of University President Mary Sue Coleman’s presidential initiatives during her time at the helm has been an expansion of study-abroad program — something that wasn’t a priority when she began her tenure in 2002.

Between 2002 and 2005, fewer than 1,300 students enrolled in study-abroad programs. The University earned a spot on the list starting in 2006, and enrollment has since fluctuated around 2,000 students.

However, when it comes to assessing the quality of study-abroad programs, the raw number of enrolled students doesn’t tell the whole story. According to James Paul Holloway, vice provost for global and engaged education, the survey only reflects students doing study abroad for credit.

“The data you don’t see there is the co-curricular that that survey has not systematically collected.” said Holloway. “The message for us, I think, is that for students it’s not about credit. It’s about educational experiences abroad, whether they’re for credit or not.”

The results from the 2010 to 2011 school year placed the University’s enrollment of 1,964 squarely in the middle of the pack of peer institutions, between a high of 2,451 at the University of California, Los Angeles and a low of 1,347 at the University of Iowa. The full 2012-2013 ranking list was not available Sunday.

Those co-curricular, or non credit-granting opportunities, attracted 400 University students in 2005. By 2010, co-curricular enrollment had grown to 1,500 students. The most popular destination for credit-granting programs was Spain, with 312 students, followed by Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, China and France.

“We’re different from a lot of schools because what we offer students is many, many opportunities of all kinds,” Holloway said.

Today, the University offers students the chance to study in 78 different countries. In comparison, Indiana University sends students to 52 countries, and UCLA sends students to 35.

The program has also experienced internal growth over the past 11 years. For students in the School of Art & Design, study abroad is a requirement.

Holloway said the School of Information just launched a new program to provide students with study-abroad opportunities, and the dean of the College of Engineering has begun pushing for all students to have a study-abroad component.

“There’s really been an explosion in education abroad at the University of Michigan,” Holloway said. “Of course, we always had programs, we had strong programs before (Coleman) came, but when she came and put a leadership focus on this, it really made folks stop and think and take note.”

Coleman has also personally backed the push with her own money. Along with her husband, Kenneth Coleman, she has donated about $1 million to study-abroad programs during her time at the University. Both Colemans studied abroad in their college years.

During the past 11 years, overall donations for study-abroad opportunities have grown dramatically, according to Brodie Remington, senior director of international giving in the University’s Office of Development.

Remington said Coleman’s success in securing a $5 million challenge grant in 2009 ended up bringing in $15 million for a study-abroad endowment. Challenge grants are a matching donation scheme meant to motivate donors to give more.

“Both President Coleman and Ken Coleman’s gift, and the challenge, really increased the visibility of fundraising.” said Remington.

Increasing University students’ global experiences will also be a focus of the newly launched Victors for Michigan funding campaign.

For LSA senior Antonio Barron, one of the first recipients of a scholarship from Coleman’s endowed fund, receiving support meant much more than just getting financial aid.

“It’s allowing you to have this life-changing experience abroad that not many students get to have because of financial costs.” Barron said. “There was a lot of encouragement I received from the scholarship and from having the University support me.”

Last spring, the U.S. News and World Report published its inaugural ranking of the top 50 study-abroad programs at colleges worldwide — based on academic rigor and student-culture interaction. Administrators at thousands of colleges submitted nominations for the rankings.

Peer institutions including Indiana University, UCLA, and the University of Texas made the U.S. News list. The University did not, which officials say can partially be attributed to its focus on co-curricular opportunities rather than credit-granting options.

Coleman has made engagement with Africa and China a priority for her administration. During her tenure, she has also made trips to Ghana and Brazil, and is set to travel to India this week.