Why Few Low-Income College Students Study Abroad


The number of American college students studying abroad has tripled in the past 20 years, yet few first-generation college-going, minority, or low-income students take part—raising important concerns about equity at an increasing number of institutions of higher education.

A new Hechinger Report article by Sarah Carr tackles the increasing value of studying abroad for college students, the impediments keeping some, in particular those listed above, from participating, and current efforts to improve access to study abroad opportunities.

As Study Abroad Becomes More Crucial, Few Low-Income Students Go” explains that both cultural reasons, like families placing great value on staying close to home, and financial reasons keep low-income students from the experience. Even if tuition stays the same when abroad, additional costs can reach up to $10,000 to include fees for passports, visas, housing, food, school materials, travel outside the classroom, and roundtrip airline tickets. And consider the expenses if there is an emergency and family members need to travel overseas themselves or students need to suddenly fly home. On top of this, finding a job while abroad—which may be necessary considering most colleges do not provide work-study programs off campus—adds more stress and cost. For families, especially those who have not traveled abroad, this can all seem too impractical or even dangerous; the risk seems great and the reward miniscule.

Huffington Post, “Group Seeks To Double Number of US Students Abroad

Yet for students there are numerous academic, social, and professional benefits to studying abroad, and schools are beefing up their international programs in response.

A few institutions are moving towards aiding low-income students. Spelman College, for instance, is a strong proponent of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, through which Pell Grant recipients can receive additional funds for their overseas study. Temple University in Philadelphia awards scholarships to cover passport fees. Organizations like Diversity Abroad are also pushing for change in a field with significant room for improvement.

Have you experienced setbacks in a study abroad program? Let us know what helped you, or what you think could be done to help.