A Closer Look at the Minority Serving Institution Passport

Co-Authored with Andrés Castro Samayoa and Paola 'Lola' Esmieu. Andrés is Senior Research Associate at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions and Lola serves as the Assistant Director for Programs.

Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), though only accounting for 3.6 percent of all students, who pursue study abroad, support a disproportionate share of U.S. students of color that do so.

MSIs, and there are roughly 600 of them nation-wide, consist of Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities, Asian American, Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs), and several other kinds of institutions that serve large numbers of racial and ethnic minorities. These institutions have great potential to change the lives of the students they serve and to diversify the population that studies abroad. Currently, that vast majority (76 percent) of college students going abroad are White and the majority of those students are White women (65 percent). The lack of students of color studying abroad demonstrates the inequities in higher education as experts claim that it is essential for students to study abroad to gain higher levels of cultural competence, more career success, and the ability to be employed by a global organization -- leading to more career flexibility.

Although MSIs need more access to study abroad opportunities, they still play an important role in creating the current experiences that exist for students of color. For instance, 1 in 10 Black students studying abroad hails from an HBCU -- and these institutions only account for 3 percent of all colleges and universities. If you examine MSIs overall, 1 in 5 Black students studying abroad is enrolled at these institutions. Of note, the majority of MSIs -- with the exception of Tribal Colleges, have large numbers of Black students. In addition, 1 in 15 of Hispanic students studying abroad attend an HSI -- there are a little over 300 of these institutions across the nation.

HBCUs are particularly important in the area of STEM. They send relatively high proportions of STEM students abroad. For example, students majoring in STEM fields represent 26.5 percent of study abroad participants from HBCUs, in comparison to 22.5 percent from all U.S. higher education institutions. Cultural competency and international exposure is particularly important in the STEM fields where openness to other cultures and ideas is essential. Of significance, HBCUs have great success in general in the STEM fields and disproportionately prepare students for the pursuit of graduate and professional degrees as well as careers in STEM.

Interestingly, the majority of students going abroad at HSIs and AANAPISIs majored in social science rather than STEM (27.6 percent and 28.8 percent respectively).

When we look at study abroad in terms of gender at MSIs, the picture is also interesting. Women account for 74.5 percent of study abroad participants from HBCUs, while men account for just 25.5 percent of participants. This is a relatively lower proportion of men studying abroad compared to the national average, where 65.3 percent of women and 34.7 percent of men study abroad.

The places to which MSI students travel are of interest as well. Although some of the countries are typical for study abroad goers -- Italy, Spain, France, and the United Kingdom, MSI students also regularly travel to China, Brazil, Ghana, and Argentina. HBCU students tend to favor China, Ghana, Spain, France, and Brazil. In contrast, students at HSIs and AANAPISIs tend to travel to Spain, France, the United Kingdom, and Italy.

For more information on study abroad at Minority Serving Institutions, please click here for an infographic focused on the topic.