Expanding Education Abroad Through Faculty Engagement

As funding allocated in support of higher education in the U.S. has gradually declined in some regions or has remained stagnant in others, there is no doubt that international educators across the country are facing increasing challenges with securing adequate resources. Education abroad directors are assertively benchmarking funding practices and pursuing new approaches to sustain and/or enhance education abroad operations. This four-part series will appeal to those education abroad professionals who are eager to explore entrepreneurial strategies and savvy approaches to maximizing education abroad operational funding.

By Dr. Anthony C. Ogden, ISA Consultant & Dr. Beth E. Barnes, University of Kentucky

Among students, faculty, and the administration, where do we focus most of our attention? For sure, we often feel the restraints of the administrative straightjacket, or allow ourselves to get swept up by the demands of just a few faculty members. For most education abroad professionals though, we are primarily concerned with our students. After all, student learning and development is the raison d‘être of higher education and as international educators, we take seriously our role in graduating students who have international knowledge, relevant skills and experiences that will help them succeed in the global twenty-first century. Although it feels quite natural to invest much of our time and resources into student services, our long-term success with advancing education abroad, however, may not exclusively be found there.

At many U.S. universities or colleges today, the faculty own and control the curriculum, and any real success in advancing education abroad as a high-impact educational practice will be found by working with, and through, the faculty. In her influential 2010 book, The Twenty-first Century University: Developing Faculty Engagement in Internationalization, Lisa Childress makes the case that faculty engagement is the key to realizing our calls for comprehensive internationalization (Childress, 2010). Childress explains that we need to critically examine the communication channels between central international offices and faculty, stating that often what is communicated can be quite different from what is understood. The communications feedback loop can be distorted by inconsistent messaging, inadequate or incorrect information, and as is discussed herein, a misalignment of purpose and direction. Clear and effective 360° communication with the faculty is key to effectively reposition education abroad as a function of student services to the academic core of an institution.

Overcoming the Golden Rule

For years, education abroad professionals have struggled with communicating the importance of education abroad to the faculty, lamenting that if only the faculty were fully engaged, more students would be able to participate. We take great strides at trying to engage the faculty with helping us realize our goals. Although existing education abroad research is often methodologically problematic and leaves much to interpretation, we regularly make definitive claims to the faculty that education abroad supports a vast array of learning outcomes, including intercultural competency, career readiness, global citizenship, to name only a few (Salisbury, 2012). We do this because we yearn to see the faculty cheerleading for our success.

In our evangelism, we appear to have embraced the Golden Rule, which goes something like this: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In the video clip below, consider how the education abroad professional engages the faculty representative in a discussion of her unit’s education abroad enrollment.

The Golden Rule

In this simulation, the education abroad professional basically assumes that the faculty member on behalf of her academic unit is similarly committed to education abroad programming and implies an obligation on part of the unit to increase education abroad enrollment. In fact, he directly confronts the faculty member with the question, “What can you do to get these numbers up?” During the discussion, he suggests that the academic unit do more promotion and student outreach, expand program offerings, and change degree structures. Although the simulation may be somewhat exaggerated, it is no doubt reflective of the exuberance that many of us have for education abroad. If only the faculty members would be more supportive!

Embracing the Platinum Rule

An alternative is the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would have done unto them.” In the education abroad context, this may be better expressed as, “Do unto the faculty as the faculty would want done unto them.” From this perspective, a more effective approach would be to focus on understanding the motivations of the academic units and how to leverage international education as a means to support the realization of their goals. Questions such as, “What do you need from me?” and “How can I help you?” may be more effective with nurturing collegiality, respect and open communication. In the video clip below, consider how the education abroad professional engages the faculty representative in a discussion of her unit’s education abroad enrollment.

The Platinum Rule

In this alternative simulation, the education abroad professional is much more collaborative and respectful, providing helpful background information in an attempt to better understand the goals and directions of the academic unit. In this case, he very clearly asks, “Is there anything you want from me?” He inquires about the mission of the academic unit and its goals for education abroad programming, exploring how he might better align and extend the resources of the central international office to support the academic unit’s work. The key is to disentangle individual agendas to sincerely and respectfully understand the goals and directions of the broader academic unit and assist however needed or wanted in the realization of those efforts.

The Assumption of Difference…and Multiple Realities

There can sometimes be an antagonistic relationship between central international offices and the faculty, which may be more pronounced these days, given the growth of short-term, faculty-directed programming. For example, education abroad professionals are sensitive to concerns regarding student health, safety, security and with institutional risk management and compliance, which in turn can be tedious, confusing and frustrating for faculty members that long for the ‘good ol’ days,’ when there were fewer bureaucratic hurdles. Balancing accreditation standards and curricular demands, more academic units are prioritizing faculty-directed programs as a preferred education abroad program model that does not rely on transfer credit.  This in turn can be met with concerns by education abroad professionals over cost, academic relevance, cultural assimilation, language acquisition, student access and equity, and so on. As the image below comically illustrates, there are indeed fundamental differences in expectations.

Central international offices who leverage the Platinum Rule, with the sincere goal of supporting the faculty in realizing (and shaping) their international education goals will benefit from improved 360° communication and clearer alignment of purpose and direction. In doing so, it is important to expect significant differences between academic units and be prepared to identify the multiple perspectives and realities that these academic units hold with respect to education abroad programming. It is essential to meet regularly with the faculty, especially as curricular needs and directions change over time, particularly in units with a strong focus on industry trends. What follows are four key positioning questions to consider when working with the faculty and thoughts on how to maximize the success of these encounters.

  1. Why is education abroad important?

The fundamental rationales for education abroad programming have expanded over time (Ogden, 2017). For many faculty members, the importance of education abroad programming has long-been situated in language acquisition and cultural knowledge. For others, education abroad is more about developing intercultural competence and producing global-ready graduates who are able to work effectively in intercultural settings. With the growth of short-term programs, an increasing number of faculty members recognize the importance of graduating students who understand the international dimensions of their chosen disciplines and the need to establish and nurture global networks to support future study and/or professional interests. Short-term programming has also spurred the growth of international internships, global service-learning, and undergraduate research – for many, education abroad is increasingly associated with developing career readiness, civic engagement skills, and international research networks.

When working with the faculty, it is important to quickly assess what perspectives are valued and then to align subsequent messaging and communications accordingly. If the academic unit is focused on disciplinary content, for example, it would be most advantageous to focus on messaging and programming wherein disciplinary-specific learning is held paramount. Professionally-oriented fields of study may be more responsive to education abroad programming that encourages students to work effectively in intercultural settings. Whatever the rationale, it is key to move forward together with a shared sense of purpose and direction.

  1. Who owns education abroad?

As faculty-directed programming gained in popularity, it became protocol at many institutions for individual faculty members to develop and implement recurring education abroad programs that they individually “own” and “control”. Over time, the tendency is that these programs eventually fall away through faculty attrition or lack of continuing interest or availability. Today, it is increasingly common and more sustainable to move away from programs that are individually developed and maintained in favor of programs that are organized and facilitated at the academic department level, in which individual faculty members rotate with each iteration or cycle. Program development and decisions happen at the department level rather than with any one faculty member. In this way, internal program competition is minimized and students who plan their academic coursework accordingly are more assured of program offerings at the appropriate academic junctures. This also allows academic units to be more strategic and intentional about their education abroad offerings by developing or identifying programs that accentuate distinctive aspects of their curriculum, or complement their curriculum in value-added ways.

  1. How do the faculty support education abroad?

When meeting with academic units, it is important to gauge the extent to which they are realistically committed to comprehensive internationalization. Do they have specific objectives and metrics that are being tracked? What measures are being taken to internationalize the existing curriculum? What strategies are in place to promote bilateral exchanges? One useful first step is to examine the four-year degree plan template for undergraduate students and note whether education abroad programming is mentioned. If not, it may be useful to begin by asking whether or not they actually want their students to participate, and if so, ask when they see it fitting best within the degree plan. Whether a full semester, or academic year abroad, or a summer between semesters, it is key to indicate when they think students should study abroad and what ideal course work or programming should be sought. Work closely with the academic unit to develop and maintain an education abroad portfolio that aligns with this degree plan. This participatory process – one aspect of curriculum integration – provides a quick indicator of the seriousness and extent of the unit’s commitment to international education.

  1. What motivates faculty members?

When presented with a challenging new project, administrative staff are humorously said to respond by first questioning the workload involved. Faculty members, however, are quick to inquire as to the professional and personal benefits associated with the project. When it comes education abroad, for example, some faculty members may be attracted to summer salary supplements potentially available through faculty-directed programming, but most will consider how education abroad engagement relates to promotion and tenure aspirations, research and funding opportunities, international and interdisciplinary research networks, and so on. Senior academic leaders may be more concerned with how such programming advances student success metrics, international rankings, and institutional reputation, etc. A crucial component to working successfully with the faculty is to couple international engagement with other driving factors that motivate them.

As Childress (2010) reminds us, the key to moving comprehensive internationalization from mere rhetoric to reality is by working with and through the faculty. It would be a mistake to continue our tireless efforts to engage the faculty in education abroad programming on our terms and with our conditions. Rather, our efforts might be better placed when we go to them empathetically with ideas on how to strategically leverage education abroad programming as a means to support the faculty with shaping and realizing the international education goals they have for their students. By observing the Platinum Rule, our efforts must be to align our resources and efforts with the core academic functions of the institution, and in doing so, our collective efforts will be more sustainable and successful.


In July, ISA will be hosting ThinkDen 2018, a unique professional development workshop on the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder.  Modeled as a think tank, ThinkDen will bring together a number of senior education abroad professionals for an interactive forum at which to critique common operational funding models, explore new and alternative revenue streams, and consider new directions in external collaboration and partnership. ISA will subsequently produce a special report as a contribution to the profession, featuring content from ThinkDen 2018. For more information, please click here.


Videos produced by Mr. Seth Riker, University of Kentucky.


  1. Childress, L. (2010). The Twenty-first Century University: Developing Faculty Engagement in Internationalization. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.
  2. Ogden, A. (2017). What we know and need to know about short-term, education abroad: A concise review of the literature. In L Chieffo, & C. Spaeth (Eds.), NAFSA’s Guide to successful short-term programs abroad, 3rd Edition (pp. 7-30).  Washington, D.C.: NAFSA: Association of International Educators.
  3. Salisbury, M. (2012). We’re Muddying the Message on Study Abroad. Chronicle of Higher Education, 58(42), A23. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Were-Muddying-the-Message-on/133211/

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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