by Amanda Sturgill

As I am teaching in Costa Rica this term, one thing I notice in the classrooms at the partner university is how much the women outnumber the men. This imbalance exemplifies a national trend. An Institute of International Education report from 2013 indicates that women outnumber men going abroad to study by about 2-to-1. This has been an enduring finding. 

The questions are numerous: Why the difference? Is it a problem? Should it be corrected?

When it comes to explaining the difference, Shirley found that the motivations for study abroad weren’t different for male vs. female participants, but that males were more likely to feel that their graduation was delayed by study abroad. Twombly et. al (2012) found that peer interactions discouraged males from studying abroad and that marketing messages for study abroad don’t emphasize things male students value. In a sense, their may be a chicken and egg problem, as schools and providers try to create engaging experiences for the present audience, resulting in a more female-focused experience offered. As the market for higher education in the US contracts, colleges and universities may avoid the financial risk taken to create new programs. 

Is the difference a problem? Shirley notes that the gender gap affects the fields of study pursued off campus. Humanities, arts and education were popular areas for study abroad participants. This begs the question of if the value of off-campus experiences in fields like STEM and business are being missed. These experiences would, of course, have value for male and female students alike. There is also the question of significance for the students. Braskamp and Engberg found that females measured higher than males in almost all measures of their Global Perspectives Inventory. 

The male-female discrepancy and its significance is also challenging to study. It is common to find in the literature a very small sample, in-depth qualitative study of a single study abroad program. Although qualitative studies don’t seek external validity, they do seek to generate appropriate areas for further investigation. When there are only two or three males included in a group of 10 in a study, the risk of treating individual issues as if they have some representativeness grows. Multi-institutional research allows for larger numbers of participants, as well as a larger set of institutional variables, and can help define the field for investigation. Student and programmatic factors are two major areas for the Center for Engaged Learning’s research seminar on Integrating Global Learning with the University Experience.


Twombly, S. B., Salisbury, M. H., Tumanut, S. D., & Klute, P. (2012). Study Abroad in a New Global Century: Renewing the promise, refining the purpose, ASHE higher education report. John Wiley & Sons.

Amanda Sturgill (@DrSturg) is Associate Professor of Communications at Elon University.  She has professional experience in newspaper journalism and marketing communications, and her research focuses on the intersection of education and community-based work, the relationship of region and media, and on new technologies and the news. Amanda routinely teaches study abroad courses and has published on methods of reflection in service-learning abroad.

How to cite this post:

Sturgill, Amanda. 2016, June 21. Issues in male student choices for global and domestic off-campus experiences. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from