Changing the Face of Study Abroad
Colleges reach out to minority students in effort to reduce racial disparities
When Jaime Alvarez looks at his life, he sees two narratives: what might have been and what is.
In the first, he gets married shortly after high school, buys a house with money from a
construction job, has several kids, and comes home every night to nurse a sore back with a six-
pack of beer.
In the second, he transfers from a community college to San Francisco State University, working
construction to support himself. He spends his senior year in Sweden — his first time outside the
country except for trips to Mexico — and the experience changes his life. After graduating, he
teaches English in Austria.
Mr. Alvarez, who is entering graduate school at California State University at Long Beach this
fall, considers himself lucky.
In 2005 minority students made up 32 percent of all undergraduates, says the U.S. Education
Department. But they accounted for only 17 percent of undergraduates who studied abroad in
2005-6, an increase of barely 1.5 percent over a decade ago, according to the Institute of
International Education. That gap troubles study-abroad professionals, who worry that too many
needy minority students slip through the cracks.
In 2005 a total of 223,534 students from American institutions studied abroad, up from 89,242 in
1995. As colleges work to expand study abroad in general, they are seeking new ways to include
underrepresented students, by providing scholarships, meeting with campus minority groups, and
developing information materials that deal with the tricky issue of race in study abroad.
Mr. Alvarez comes from a tightly knit Mexican-American family that was more likely to ask
about his job than about schoolwork. At his home, in El Monte, Calif., a rough city east of Los
Angeles, the first conversation of the day was usually about who had been robbed the night
before. Even when he made it to community college but hadn't yet transferred to San Francisco