Students who study abroad improve their social status with higher graduation rates and competitive access to employment than non-study abroad participants (Gerhards & Hans, 2013; Metzger, 2006; Posey, 2003). Study abroad programs vary in location, duration, academic coursework, and costs. These numerous options offered by study abroad programs should result in diverse representation among gender, race, and field of study. Yet, U.S. national data reveals that study abroad participation rates are not reflective of student population in higher education (Kasravi, 2010). The overwhelming majority of U.S. study abroad participants throughout the past 10 years identify as female and/or white (Institute of International Education, 2013). The three top fields of study represented in U.S. study abroad programs are the social sciences, business and management, and the humanities (Institute of International Education, 2013). This demographic data indicates an unequal distribution of study abroad participation across gender and racial differences, as well as fields of study.
Research that has addressed study abroad participation factors focuses on national study abroad participation rates (Goldstein & Kim, 2006; Kasravi, 2010; Salisbury, Paulsen & Pascarella, 2010; Stroud, 2010; Van Der Meid, 2003). Much of this research has used single institutional data as a sample to understand the factors that impact national study abroad demographics (Goldstein & Kim, 2006; He & Chen, 2010; Scott & McMahon, 1998; Spalsbury, Umbach, Paulsen, & Pascarella, 2008; Spiering & Erickson, 2006; Stroud, 2010). Although past research has addressed the underrepresentation of U.S. male and racial minority students abroad at a national level, questions that address how the intersection of race, gender, and fields of study impact study abroad participation at a single institutional level are underexamined. Single institutional data can contextualize study abroad demographics so that the intersection of local factors at universities can emerge as areas of research. The goal of this research is to demonstrate the need for context specific participation data to identify areas of research that can aid further studies that aim to understand how to improve study abroad access and participation.
Using chi-square goodness of fit tests and post hoc analysis, this exploratory case study addresses the following: How does Grand Valley State University (GVSU) study abroad participation compare to national data in the context of race, gender, and field of study? Overall, this study demonstrates a significantly higher difference of distribution between GVSU and national statistics in the context of health professions, education, math or computer science, and “other” fields of study. This study also demonstrates that female and white identity distributions are significantly higher for GVSU than national study abroad proportions, while Asian and Hispanic identities are significantly lower. The differences found between GVSU and national proportions supports the importance of gathering and understanding single-institutional data and can be used for future research purposes to promote increased study abroad participation among diverse populations.