Photo courtesy of Shada Nathan
Women statistically participate in study abroad programs more than men, and the gender gap is apparent in Texas State’s study abroad programs.
There are many factors that possibly contribute to the gender gap in studying abroad programs such as program availability, the readiness to go abroad and financial costs.
According to the Open Doors report published by the Institute of International Education, women accounted for more than two-thirds of study abroad students in the 2016-2017 school year, 67 percent in the United States. This trend has remained constant for more than a decade.
The National Bureau of Economic Research states that women have historically outnumbered men on college campuses since the late 1960s and early 1970s as women aimed to have careers in the labor force. Studying abroad programs have been readily available for liberal arts education which sixty-two percent of women studied in 2015, according to the Human Indicators.
Many blame the gender gap on the lack of STEM programs abroad, considering STEM to be a male-dominated field. However, there is now a wide variety of study abroad programs for students that include STEM, but even in the STEM study abroad programs, women outnumber men in earning an international education.
According to Texas State Study Abroad Representative Tania Vera Borunda, the gender gap is apparent at Texas State as over 50 percent of the study abroad participants are women. She said Texas State sent 574 females and 218 males to study abroad in 2018.
Borunda said they offer a wide variety of programs for students, including liberal arts and STEM. Borunda sees an increase in overall enrollment in STEM programs, but the majority continue to be women.
“We are seeing more females. The same thing with science, it used to be a very male-dominated position, but throughout the years, we’ve had that change,” Borunda said. “We see it as a reflection in our study abroad programs.”
Borunda explains that Texas State’s diverse study abroad programs allow students to get hands-on experience that they wouldn’t get in the classroom.
The Study Abroad Office offers faculty-led and affiliate programs. Faculty-led is organized by a faculty advisor, and the classes are through Texas State. Affiliate programs are organized by an organization and students transfer the college credit(s) to Texas State. The American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) is a study abroad affiliate provider for Texas State, and their enrollment data nationally and at Texas State shows a disparity in gender.
Vice President and Director of University Relations for AIFS John Hylton has had the opportunity to study abroad with AIFS as a student, and throughout his time in international education, he has noticed the apparent gender gap.
“Certainly, since I’ve been working here when I was a student in my program. There was a very large and noticeable gender gap,” said Hylton. “I remember getting a list of students before the program, and it did jump out at me. I noticed very few names that would traditional be male, and I wasn’t concerned about it in any sort of way.”
Despite Hylton noticing the gender gap in his program, he wouldn’t change a thing about his study abroad experience because it was the perfect timing for him. Earning an international education led him to a career with AIFS he’s had the pleasure working for the past thirteen years.
According to Hylton, their AIFS enrollments are approximately 78 percent female and 22 percent male nationally. At Texas State, participants on AIFS programs are about 80 percent female and 20 percent male; Texas State falls in line with the overall national statistics.
According to “Getting More Males to Study Abroad” a study by Terra Dotta, a study abroad educational software company, they look into several factors that contribute to the gender gap. One aspect is the difference in readiness and maturity level in male students to go abroad and experience a different environment compared to women. From a study of 2,800 students, they found that males students were less likely to go abroad if they had more ties to their peers. However, this was not true for female students as they are more willing to experience beyond their comfort zone.
Borunda has said studying abroad requires a certain level of maturity to be able to experience that immersion process. She thinks when students come back, they are much more mature than before, and they have a sense of resilience to their everyday lives compared to before.
However, sometimes it comes down to resources. Conrad Jung, biochemistry freshman, is one of six male students out of 24 students in Dr. Tajalli’s faculty-led political science Barcelona program. He wasn’t aware of the gender gap in his program until someone else pointed it out. As a Terry Scholar, he’s able to experience Barcelona and earn six credits that will put him ahead in his degree plan. Jung thinks that males are more consciously aware of the financial cost when it comes to studying abroad.
He said he wouldn’t have taken the opportunity to study abroad if it weren’t for the scholarships he’s received. Jung believes that studying abroad is attainable, and males should consider participating because it’s worth it.
“No one truly thinks of the benefits of studying abroad. They only think how it’s going to affect them and their finances later on,” Jung says. “I feel like in order to break this gender gap, we need to break the idea that study abroad is unattainable due to pricing. There are so many scholarships available.”
Borunda and Hylton agree that it does take planning and time to consider studying abroad, but there are resources, like scholarships, for students to experience an international education.
Tyler Le Blanc, Psychology junior, is one of three males out of thirty-one students in the faculty-led psychology Greece program. Le Blanc was very surprised to hear about the gender gap because he understands how studying abroad can give students so many opportunities to benefit their future.
“Studying abroad can be applied in my resume and interviews. It shows me being active in my program and my willingness to explore cultures and understand different areas,” LeBlanc said.
Borunda and her colleagues are working hard to increase enrollment numbers and share the benefits of earning an international education. They attend many outreach events hosted by various communities and organizations to better serve Texas State’s diverse population. Borunda says they try to reach as many students as they can through their fairs and classroom presentations.
Borunda stresses the benefits of studying abroad, and she wishes for more students, especially males, to consider taking the opportunity because it broadens students’ careers and opens up the world to them. She explains that employers are looking for graduates who are able to adapt, work with a team and interact with different people which are all valuable lessons learned after studying abroad.
Hylton says he values international education, and he wants to help students of both genders get the most out of studying abroad.
“AIFS passionately believes in the transformative experience of international education, and we are working to make it accessible for all students,” Hylton said.
Many organizations like AIFS and Texas State’s Study Abroad Office are working towards spreading awareness and accessibility of earning an international education to both genders.