Texas A&M Study Abroad Program Ranked No. 1 In Nation
Texas A&M University students are leading the nation in studying abroad, according to the latest Open Doors report from the Institute for International Education.
The report covers the 2020-21 academic year and shows Aggies leading with 569 students abroad. Known at Texas A&M as “Education Abroad,” the university has been in the top 10 annually since the 2012-13 academic year, and has been the No. 1 public university for five consecutive years. This is the first time A&M has topped the list of both public and private universities.
“Our study abroad program has long been one of our university’s best kept secrets, and we’re proud to be nationally recognized for its excellence,” said Susan Ballabina, chief external affairs officer and senior vice president of academic and strategic collaborations. “We believe offering exceptional experiences, like education abroad, supports students’ success long-term.”
Holly Hudson, associate vice president for global engagement in the Division of Academic and Strategic Collaborations, previously served as director of Education Abroad for more than four years. She says several factors have led to the program’s success.
“We are fortunate to have support from administration, academic programs, parents, former students and donors, all who understand the importance of an international education,” Hudson said. “There are a tremendous amount of programs supported by academic departments that allow students to go abroad with other Aggies and Texas A&M faculty.”
Hudson said the university’s programs offer not only guidance, but also a sense of comfort and familiarity for students, especially those who may be hesitant about going abroad.
“We have an extensive network of reciprocal and major-specific exchange programs that connect Texas A&M students to foreign universities for semester- and year-long study opportunities,” she said. “And we have strong partnerships with academic colleges that lead to the development of programs that perfectly fit into students’ degree plans and keep students on track for graduation.”
The top five units sending Aggies abroad are the College of Engineering, College of Arts and Sciences, Mays Business School, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and School of Architecture. The most popular destinations for Texas A&M students are Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, France and Mexico.
Hudson said Education Abroad is a high-impact, transformational opportunity for students that enhances their university experience.
“It teaches skills, not just academic content,” she said. “Students learn to navigate challenging and unfamiliar situations and view things through a different lens which leads to a broader awareness of worldviews different from their own.”
Students learn highly valuable competencies including intercultural communication, foreign languages, adaptability and problem-solving — all skills employers are seeking, she said.
“Data also show that students who participate in Education Abroad at both the undergraduate and graduate levels graduate faster than those who do not,” Hudson said.
Hudson shared that for the first time, Texas A&M will be offering faculty-led programs in Antarctica in fall 2023. The first expedition will depart in November and is a joint effort between the School of Education and Human Development, College of Arts and Sciences, and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The second is offered by Mays Business School, departing in December and focused on global sustainable business.
This fall, students from the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences studying event management went to Qatar for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and a visit to Texas A&M at Qatar. “Students are getting exclusive behind-the-scenes access to the World Cup, volunteering and taking in a lot of soccer matches,” Hudson said.
And the Department of Global Engagement launched its Intercultural Change Leadership Program and digital badge this fall. The program offers the opportunity to certify skills in justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) in a global context. The self-paced program awards a digital badge that can be displayed on digital resumes and personal websites.
Some students may be hesitant to inquire about study abroad opportunities because they think it might be unaffordable, Hudson said, but Education Abroad staff work to ensure the program is accessible to everyone.
“Many students are surprised to learn that if they qualify for federal student aid, that can be used for a study abroad experience,” Hudson said. Additionally, the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program enables students who are Pell Grant eligible to study or intern abroad.
She noted that in a typical year, more than 30% of Education Abroad participants report a family income of less than $80,000.
Additionally, the generosity of former students and donors help enable students to go abroad through a vast amount of scholarships. “It’s estimated that about $1.5 million dollars is available to students studying abroad each year,” Hudson said.
In addition to the IIE program ranking, Education Abroad staff have also been recognized nationally.
Last month, Hudson received the Award for Outstanding Service to International Education from NAFSA: Association of International Educators Region III; Martin Rosales, program manager for the Department of Global Engagement, was recently selected as the recipient of the Rising Star Award for NAFSA Region III; and Diversity Abroad selected Amaris “Ami” Vázquez-Vargas, a program coordinator for Education Abroad, as the recipient of its 2022 Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion in International Education Rising Star Award.
This year Hudson was named associate vice president for global engagement in the university’s new Division of Academic and Strategic Collaborations. She said she’s excited her new job in the Department of Global Engagement will open even more opportunities for Aggies.
“I get to work closely with a great team of professionals committed to supporting students, faculty, and staff. The development of the Global Engagement department has created an opportunity to connect across campus and champion international activities,” she said. “It is truly my dream job.”