Graduation Term


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Educational Administration and Foundations: Educational Administration

Committee Chair

Mohamed Nur-Awaleh


Despite the fact that only 1.8% of U.S. undergraduate students choose to participate in a study abroad program, the popularity of study abroad has grown significantly in recent years (Open Doors, 2013). Participation in study abroad programs has grown by over 97% since 2000, and has increased every year since 2008-09 (Open Doors, 2013). Many institutions recognize the importance of this educational activity in preparing their students to be productive citizens in an ever-growing global economy and society.

While the number of U.S. undergraduate students participating in study abroad has continued to increase overall, it is important to note that these data trends do not remain the same when disaggregated. For instance, the number of underrepresented students, especially first-generation and low income, participating in study abroad programs has remained low.

While attention has been drawn to this population, especially by offering U.S. Department of State Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program scholarships and travel stipends to Pell Grant recipients who desire to study abroad, more research is required. Since the annual Open Doors Survey, the main instrument used to gather data on study abroad programs, does not allow for differentiation of socioeconomic or first-generation status of individuals participating in study abroad, a better sense of the trends in study abroad program involvement among underrepresented students needs to be obtained. In addition, no data are gathered on the benefits or barriers that influence study abroad decision making among underrepresented groups.

For these reasons, a transformative, mixed-methods approach was used to identify the influential factors, barriers, and benefits that influenced first-generation and low-income students to participate in study abroad programs. This study focused on TRiO- eligible students who chose to study abroad and were enrolled at a Midwestern institution in the United States. To be eligible for a federal TRiO program, a student can qualify as first-generation, low-income, or disabled (as defined by the American Disabilities Act); however, for the purposes of this study, only first-generation and low-income students were included. The disability status of an individual was intentionally excluded to minimize potential violations of the strict regulations of confidentiality that accompany the recording of disability status of an individual.

This study built upon three previous studies that examined the decision of individuals to decide to participate in study abroad programs: Booker's (2001) Decision-Making Process for Applying or Not Applying to Study Abroad Model, Peterson's (2003) Decision to Study Abroad Model, and Kasravi's (2009) Adapted Model of Decision to Study Abroad for students of color in study abroad programs. The framework and survey instrument utilized for this study were based upon these models to determine the personal, social, and institutional factors influencing TRiO-eligible students who decided to study abroad, the barriers students faced in making their decision to study abroad, and how they benefited from their participation in a study abroad program.

The findings gleaned from analyzing 208 complete surveys, one focus group interview, and four individual interviews, suggest that all three factors (personal, social, institutional) played a role. Institutional factors were most influential when it came to the decision of TRiO-eligible students to participate in study abroad. These findings demonstrate that institutional investment into factors such as funding, awareness, and support for first-generation students and Pell Grant recipients are effective in influencing these students to study abroad, answering the Institute for International Education's call to diversify the study abroad population through the Generation Study Abroad initiative. The study provides practical implications for improving data collection of demographic variables, such as socioeconomic status and generational status in college, in order to gauge the participation level of TRiO-eligible students in study abroad at the institutional level, as well as recommendations for future research.


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