Campus Viewpoints

Throw Away Your Passport

October 15, 2012

Less than 10 percent of the students who graduate from American colleges this spring will have studied abroad, a proportion that stubbornly persists, year after year.

But what if educators abandoned the idea that students need a passport in order to increase their understanding of and comfort with other cultures?

There are alternatives—often cheaper and easier to fit into academic, athletics, family, or work schedules—that could ensure that far greater numbers of students gain exposure to different cultures and perspectives. A student from Appalachia could "study away" at a historically black university. One enrolled at an urban commuter college could spend a semester at a small residential college.

And colleges have resources even closer to home, in their international students and local immigrant and ethnic populations, says Mark H. Salisbury, who has studied the results of study abroad. Thoughtfully organized service-learning projects could give students cross-cultural experience over their entire academic career. "There are all sorts of opportunities," says Mr. Salisbury, of Augustana College, in Illinois, "if only we looked at what's right around us."