What Makes Business Students Participate in College Study Abroad Programs?

Author:Bandyopadhyay, Soumava


Studying abroad is an academic experience where college students physically leave the United States to engage in college study, cultural interaction, and other related pursuits in a foreign country (McKeown, 2009). The duration could be short-term (eight weeks or less) or long-term (one year or more). The benefits of participating in a study abroad program include increased multicultural awareness, greater foreign language proficiency, better professional and personal development, and better academic performance (Ingraham & Peterson, 2004; Hadis, 2005). Studying abroad is also expected to prepare students for active global citizenship, which would enable American students to strengthen international development efforts and enhance their country's image abroad (Tarrant, Rubin, & Stoner, 2014; Horn & Fry, 2013). Public policymakers have recognized the value of an international study experience. The Lincoln Commission (2005) has argued that study abroad experiences should be the norm in higher education, rather than the exception. The United States Senate designated the year 2006 as the "Year of Study Abroad" in acknowledging the role study abroad plays in shaping American education and global leadership (Zemach-Bersin, 2007).

As a result of the efforts to popularize study abroad programs, the number of college students participating in such programs has been increasing steadily in recent years. The most recent Open Doors report from the Institute of International Education (2015) confirmed that 304, 467 American college students studied abroad in the year 2013-14, which is an increase of 5.2% from the previous year. The number, though apparently impressive, represents only 1.8 percent of all higher education students in the U.S. This indicates that there is still a lot of room for growth in the participation of American college students in study abroad programs. Considering the major fields of study, only 59,687 business majors (undergraduate and graduate) participated in study abroad programs in 2013-14, which represented just 19.6 percent of all study abroad participants during that year (Institute of International Education, 2015). With business activities being increasingly globalized, we certainly need to increase the number of business students participating in study abroad programs substantially. AACSB International, the prestigious accreditation agency for institutions of higher education in business, has noted the value of study abroad programs in colleges of business (Mangiero & Craten, 2011). As a result, the number of business schools offering study abroad programs has increased in recent years.

In this paper, we present an empirical test of a model to investigate the factors that are likely to influence business majors in colleges to participate in study abroad programs. Studies reported so far (e.g., Ingraham & Peterson, 2004; de Jong, Schnusenberg, & Goel, 2010; Salisbury et al., 2009; Goldstein & Kim, 2006; Hembroff & Rusz, 1993; Carlson et al., 1990) have identified and discussed only a few subsets of all possible influencing factors. Moreover, most of these studies related to study abroad programs in non-business fields. In our work, we present a model that includes a comprehensive set of factors which will help predict business students' intentions to participate in study abroad programs. The results should provide a valuable tool for college advisors to increase participation rates in their programs, and thus make their institutions more competitive with other colleges of business in an increasingly globalized business setting.


The proposed hypothetical model is presented in figure 1. Student participation in study abroad program mainly depends on the students' expectations of specific benefits from such programs (Kim & Goldstein, 2005). A review of the literature reveals five main factors that are likely to impact participation--1) general perceptions held by students about study abroad programs, such as the relevance of the program in the degree plan, opportunities for sightseeing, etc. (McKeown, 2009); 2) expectations of intercultural awareness from studying abroad (Bennett, 2004); 3) expectations of personal growth (Pyle, 1981); 4) expectations of professional development (Norris & Gillespie, 2009); and 5) expectations of intellectual growth (Ingraham & Peterson, 2004). Hypotheses regarding the influence of these factors on students' intention to participate in study abroad are developed next.

Intention to Participate

Students' intention to participate in a study abroad program is the dependent variable in our model. According to the Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen, 1991), expressed intention to participate is the best indicator of actual participation.

General Perceptions

Students will have certain general perceptions regarding any study abroad program that they may consider participating in. Congruence of the study abroad program with the students' planned career path is an important consideration (Norris & Gillespie, 2009). Therefore, whether a study abroad program is relevant to a student's degree plan would be one of the factors in this category (Carlson et al., 1991). Other factors in the general perceptions category would be the extent of enjoyment expected from the trip, the possibility of meeting interesting people, sightseeing, etc. (Carsello & Creaser, 1976,; McKeown, 2009). Considering the impact of positive general perceptions on students' participation in study abroad, we have our first hypothesis:

H1: Students' positive general perceptions about study abroad programs are positively related to their intention to participate in such programs.

Intercultural Awareness

Intercultural awareness enables students to understand and adapt to cultures other than their own (Bennett, 2004). Study abroad programs are expected to foster learning and understanding of hitherto unfamiliar host country cultures (Spradley, 1979). Communicating with culturally different individuals is a key feature (Goldstein & Kim, 2006). Study abroad can provide students with a cultural immersion through experiential learning when students live in local accommodations, eat local food, interact with local professors and students, and learn local customs. Therefore, study abroad can offer students much more than just a descriptive exposure to other cultures (Jones, 2003) and can...

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