Studying abroad is a high-impact practice with a multitude of benefits (Truelove 2023). Increasingly, employers are seeking graduates with cross-cultural experience, a global perspective, and critical thinking skills. In addition, research suggests that undergraduate students who participate in study abroad have significantly higher graduation rates, increased grade point averages, and demonstrate “better overall cogitative, psychosocial, and cultural competencies” (Smith et al. 2013, 16).

For historically underrepresented minority students (HURMS) (Longmire-Avital 2018), the gains from studying abroad are even more impactful. A seminal study (Sutton and Rubin 2010) found that graduation rates and grade point averages were especially profound among at-risk and non-white students (Smith et al. 2013). In addition, for multicultural HURMS, studying abroad provides a unique opportunity to explore ethnic, racial, and gender identities while immersed in one’s cultural heritage (Morgan, Mwegelo, and Turner 2002).

However, despite these evident benefits, in the U.S., the white student population continues to dominate study-abroad participation. According to NAFSA (n.d.) “Trends in U.S. Study Abroad” statistics, in 2020-2021, African American/Black students made up 13.1% of students enrolled in postsecondary education*. In sharp contrast, African American/Black students only accounted for 4.1% of students engaging with study abroad. Similarly, Hispanic/Latine students represented 20.3% of the postsecondary student population, but only 12.3% of those who study abroad. These alarming racial/ethnic disparities lead us to a critical conversation about the barriers that hinder HURMS’ study abroad engagement.

As supported by a variety of studies, the overarching barriers to study abroad are:

  • Finances: Nearly all previous research supports the fact that finances are the most significant barrier to studying abroad. This includes the program’s actual cost and the cost of foregoing earnings (federal work-study placement, Longmire-Avital 2019a) while studying abroad.
  • Family concerns and attitudes: As described in Brux and Fry (2010), negative parental attitudes have often discouraged HURMS study abroad participation. “Brux and Ngoboka (2002) noted that family disapproval was a factor mentioned by 60% of African American students” (Brux and Fry 2010, 513). This disapproval stems from financial and safety concerns and also speaks to previous generations’ lack of positive global exposure.
  • Fear of racism and discrimination: In addition to parental concerns, HURMS themselves may fear racism and discrimination while participating in study abroad. This racism and discrimination can come from the US peers with whom they study abroad and/or citizens of the destination country.
  • Historical patterns and institutional factors: Historically, study abroad participants have been white and from upper- or middle-class families. For this reason, many HURMS see studying abroad as “something for other students, but not for me” (Brux and Fry 2010, 515).

In addition, institutional constraints that discourage HURMS study abroad participation include curriculum requirements, scheduling difficulties, lack of support of faculty and departments, difficulty in transferring credits, marketing practices, and lack of relevant study abroad programs (in terms of location and/or focus of study).

In helping break these barriers, my literature review offers the following recommendations for practice:

  • Financial aid, transparency, and support: Of course, the best solution to the barrier of finances would be offering more financial aid (specifically, scholarships and grants). However, in recognizing that this solution is not attainable for all institutions, a secondary recommendation is financial transparency and support: up-front description of out-of-pocket expenses such as application fees and deposits, immunizations, passports, visas, and personal expenses while traveling as well as outreach/advising on potential financial aid opportunities, budgeting, work abroad, etc.
  • Travel peers: In an attempt to combat potential racism/discrimination abroad, Longmire-Avital recommends “Travel Peers.” Given that the vast majority of study abroad participants are white, travel peers encourage the diversification of study abroad cohorts and work to protect HURMS from being isolated as the only minority in their program (Longmire-Avital 2019b). Of course, this practice should be paired with intercultural/bias training for the entire cohort to further acknowledge HURMS’ positionality while abroad and to not burden the HURMS with “educator” responsibilities while abroad.
  • Intentional selection/training of the faculty/staff members who lead programs abroad: Brux and Fry (2010) describe the importance of intentionally including multicultural/historically underserved faculty/staff in global education opportunities. After experiencing a study abroad program themselves, these individuals can serve as mentors to HURMS and can provide encouragement and helpful insight about studying abroad (which is specifically important for students whose families may have negative attitudes/concerns about study abroad). In addition, if intentionally trained on intercultural awareness and bias, these faculty/staff members can establish a diverse learning environment abroad and make studying abroad a much more transformative, high-impact experience for the student.
  • Increased program versatility regarding destination, duration, and academic content: NAFSA’s “Trends in U.S. Study Abroad” state that 66.3% of study abroad was in Europe, specifically Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, France, and Ireland*. These locations are generally more expensive and thus can be more financially unattainable for HURMS. Offering a larger variety of study abroad destinations, durations, and content areas would supply more affordable study abroad programs, more options for completing curriculum requirements abroad, and more opportunities for HURMS to participate in “heritage programs” (Morgan, Mwegelo, and Turner 2002). In addition, offering short-term programs (Chi 2023) and alternatives to traditional study abroad (Gutmann 2023) can greatly increase the accessibility of global learning opportunities, as other posts in this blog series explore.

By utilizing these recommendations and continuing to research barriers to studying abroad, institutions can begin advancing HURMS’ study abroad engagement. Until then, studying abroad will remain an exclusive and ineffective high-impact practice.

If you are interested in learning about study abroad programs that have made strides regarding this issue, tune into the next episode of 60-second SoTL, releasing Thursday.

* NAFSA’s 2020-2021 data does not analyze how study abroad enrollment and host regions were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, these statistics may differ from pre-COVID-19 study abroad data.


Brux, Jacqueline Murray, and Blake Fry. 2010. “Multicultural Students in Study Abroad: Their Interests, Their Issues, and Their Constraints.” Journal of Studies in International Education 14 (5): 508-527.

Brux, Jaqueline, and Pascal Ngoboka. 2002. “Underrepresented U.S. Students and International Study.” Poster session presented at the Council on International Educational Exchange Conference, Atlanta, GA.

Chi, Howard. 2022. “Lengths of Study-Away Programs.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. February 15, 2023.

Gutmann, Elana. 2023. “Learning from the Past: Alternative Ways to Build Intercultural Competency.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. February 21, 2023.

Longmire-Avital, Buffie. 2018. “Compositional Diversity Is a Start But Not Enough!” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. June 26, 2018.

Longmire-Avital, Buffie. 2019a. “A High Impact Federal Work-Study Appointment.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. May 8, 2019.

Longmire-Avital, Buffie. 2019b. “Establishing Equity in Study Abroad Experiences: Three Recommendations.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. December 17, 2019.

Morgan, Rose M., Desideria T. Mwegelo, and Laura N. Turner. 2002. “Black Women in the African Diaspora Seeking Their Cultural Heritage Through Studying Abroad.” Naspa Journal 39 (4): 333-353.

NAFSA. “Trends in U.S. Study Abroad.” n.d. Accessed February 23, 2023.

Smith, D. E., M.O. Smith, K.R. Robbins, N.S. Eash, and F.R. Walker. 2013. “Traditionally Under-represented Students’ Perceptions of a Study Abroad Experience.” NACTA Journal 57 (3a): 15–20.

Sutton, Richard, C., and Rubin, Donald, L. 2010. “Documenting the Academic Impact of Study Abroad: Final Report of the GLOSSARI Project.” Paper presented at the NAFSA Annual Conference, Kansas City, Missouri.

Truelove, Vanessa. 2022. “High Impact Practices Abroad: The Key to Enriching Study Away Programs.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. February 8, 2023.

Aly Weaver is a first-year graduate student in Elon’s Masters of Higher Education program. During her undergraduate career, Aly completed a semester study abroad in Chile and worked for three years as a study abroad and international student adviser. She is passionate about global education, transformative experiences, and breaking down barriers so all students can access high-impact practices.

How To Cite This Post

Weaver, Aly. 2023. “Barriers to HURMS Study Abroad Engagement.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. March 1, 2023.