For HBCUs, Investing in Education Abroad a Key to Marketplace Success - Higher Education
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For HBCUs, Investing in Education Abroad a Key to Marketplace Success


by Steven W. Jones


Steven W. Jones

Steven W. Jones

The numbers show how under-represented students of color are when it comes to international experiences, but how can its increase also be connected to improving marketplace success?

Since 2000 according to the Institute of International Education, study abroad participation among U.S. college students has nearly tripled in the 2011-12 academic year, the latest available figures until November, to a new high: 283,332. The four largest groups: Whites (76.4); Asians (7.7); Hispanics (7.6); and Blacks (5.3). During the same period: 58.0, 5.8 and 14.4 percent of enrolled U.S. college students were represented by those same groups, respectively. Latinos and African Americans were virtually tied.

More than 310,000 students were enrolled at 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), yet only 48 were known to have gone abroad based on data from the leading source of funding for Pell Grant students, The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program. Where African-American graduates are over-represented is in working minimum wage jobs when employed. As recruiters look for more candidates with global experiences, they cannot compete.

HBCU students need a tactical “education abroad” approach, one that synthesizes global literacy, academic achievement and career development. Distinctly different from study abroad, this model is based on an eight week or less course of 4 to 6 credits, linked to the students’ concentration or career trajectory and hosted at a university. However, implementing this requires HBCU presidents and chancellors including senior administrators with input from faculty and career counselors to:


  • Define their institutions’ current set of expectations for student academic performance and “post-graduate” success.
  • Prepare to invest in updating curricula to be strategically integrated with customized international programs.
  • Lever limited resources and seek new funds via a partnership of like-minded HBCUs and other institutions.
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African-American students face a Recent College Graduate Unemployment rate that is 164 percent above Whites; down from 244 percent. When work is found, a disproportionate number will earn a minimum wage, a condition that is on the rise. Persisting in occupations that do not require a college degree, (mal-employment) being more acute for Black males.

Under these conditions, higher federal student loan default rates seem likely. Marketplace outcomes matter. In one state the Cohort Default Rate (CDR), defined as the number of borrowers in student loan repayment divided by the number of borrowers in default, is 9.2 just below the current national average of 10 percent. Approximately, 8.1 percent of the state’s degree-granting schools are HBCUs. Collectively they had an average CDR of 15.93 percent. Each was above the state average.

Including both a college access and graduate success focus plays into HBCUs’ inherent academic strengths and mentoring legacy. HBCUs have strong nursing and teaching programs. With investments they can be expanded to having relevant international components. For others it is: public health, sustainable agriculture, and civil rights law, even sports business management. These are global disciplines that can have a greater learning impact if framed as such. Yet, the task of imbedding international experiences in course work has costs and does not have to be done in isolation.

In 2011 the North Carolina Study Abroad/Global Engagement Partnership was created by Livingstone College in Salisbury and IERCEF to enable HBCUs to stretch their limited resources, collectively seeking support as a partnership of like-minded institutions. In 2013, NC SAGE partnered with study abroad provider IES Abroad to develop and launch a pilot Public Health in Jamaica course, now slated for 2015. Why public health? Eight of 11 HBCUs in North Carolina have public health related or nursing degree programs. Partnering with a firm, capable of customizing program elements to meet specific academic development goals, was vital.

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Our students today are waist-high in the water of globalization. We must offer them attractive learning options to immerse them in different world cultures. In order to be the leaders this nation demands of them, they will need to speak the critical languages and understand the history of cultures and nations different from their own.” ― President David Wilson of Morgan State University from “The Changing the Face of Historically Black Colleges and Universities” by Marybeth Gasman, 2013.

President Wilson is of course right. Yet HBCUs lack the infrastructure to deliver those “attractive learning options.” Without an honest, well-articulated assessment of an institution’s expectations of its students, a commitment to renovate as well as integrate strong programs with international elements and teamwork, expect falling enrollment and rising CDRs to persist. HBCUs that fail to address the graduate outcomes issue place themselves in a vulnerable position. The miner’s canary will not sound forever.

Steven W. Jones is president of the International Education Resources Center Education Foundation, the only federal nonprofit that advocates and designs education abroad programs targeting HBCUs and the Minority Serving Institution community at-large.

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