Rhetoric and Reality in Study Abroad: The Aims of Overseas Study for U.S. Higher Education in the Twentieth Century
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CitationContreras Jr., Eduardo. 2015. Rhetoric and Reality in Study Abroad: The Aims of Overseas Study for U.S. Higher Education in the Twentieth Century. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractPolitical and educational leaders today often praise the benefits of study abroad with lofty rhetoric by arguing that overseas study can provide American undergraduate students with a variety of beneficial outcomes such as personal growth, academic gains, professional skills, greater international awareness and cross-cultural understanding. Despite the rhetoric, a relatively small percentage of students participate in overseas study. In 2014, the Institute of International Education reported that 9% of American undergraduates study abroad before graduating. Beyond this, there is a lack of diversity in the students who do study abroad for credit. Although the number of white students enrolled in US higher education is approximately 60%, over 76% of the students who study abroad are white. This lack of diversity and the relatively low levels of participation in study abroad have prompted many proponents to call for new ways to expand this practice so that more undergraduate students benefit from overseas study.
This dissertation traces the historical development of study abroad programs for American undergraduate students in the twentieth century focusing on how advocates justified these programs and envisioned their ideal structures. By examining the visions and administrative solutions of study abroad advocates over the past century, this dissertation demonstrates how proponents gradually convinced colleges and universities to adopt these programs to the point that study abroad became a permanent, but highly selective, aspect of U.S. higher education. It also reveals how the discourse about study abroad changed at different points in the twentieth century to adapt to contemporary challenges. This history offers contemporary educators seeking to expand overseas study a deeper awareness of the need for clarity of objectives in study abroad programs. It argues that the rhetoric and the reality of study abroad practices should intersect in transparent ways that all interested stakeholders can understand. Finally, understanding how the roots of selectivity and elitism in study abroad were established to mitigate fears of unregulated growth and academic illegitimacy will help contemporary advocates think about ways to achieve greater access in education abroad while still maintaining institutional standards today.
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