Theses Doctoral

The Impact of Study Abroad on Student Academic Achievement, Global Perspectives and Labor Market Outcomes: Evidence from U.S. undergraduate students

Li, Jing

The increasing number of U.S. college students studying abroad raises policy concerns about student success at school and their future career development. Therefore, this dissertation revisited the education production function, built up a comprehensive conceptual framework, summarized empirical evidence reported in prior studies, conducted research that described the characteristics of U.S. students studying abroad and used quasi-experimental research methods (e.g., propensity score matching and instrumental variables) to study the impact of studying in a foreign country on students’ at-college learning outcomes and post-college labor market returns after graduation.
This dissertation is composed of three chapters on the impact of the experience of study abroad on students’ academic achievements, global perspectives at college, and post-college labor market outcomes, respectively.
In Chapter I, I examined the study abroad student population and the impact of this international experience on students’ academic achievements. Based on a random sample of college students from the National Survey of Student Engagement, I used a propensity score matching (PSM) approach and found some significant influence of study abroad on student grade point averages. I also identified heterogeneous effects of study abroad program design (e.g., duration, logistics, and curriculum).
Chapter II was prompted by the rising public attention to global mindset. Based on data from the National Survey of Student Engagement, I generated an index of global perspectives and found a positive impact of studying abroad. Results suggested that such international exchange increased student global perspectives and intended to better prepare U.S. students with global perspectives in this increasingly global economy and interdependent world.
Finally, Chapter III was inspired by the wide array of returns to education literature. Using a nationally representative sample of Bachelor’s degree recipients from the Baccalaureate and Beyond Survey, I examined private returns to education abroad and found that study-abroad alumni are hired more quickly after graduation with higher starting salaries, compared with those who did not have such international experiences. I also found variations across subpopulations and different parts of the earnings distribution.
In addition, findings from the above three national representative samples consistently showed that the participation rate of African American students is notably lower than that of the other ethnic groups. The top majors for study abroad students are Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences. In contrast, Health majors are dramatically lower for this group. Natural Sciences, Business, and Engineering majors are slightly lower, but not remarkably so. The proportion attending private institutions in the study abroad group was also higher than the sample average.

These results suggested that study abroad in college education has positive impacts on student outcomes: students with study abroad experiences do better in school and fare better in the job market. Therefore, policymakers and college administrators may need to invest more in study abroad programs and take steps to find ways (e.g., study abroad scholarships, peer advice, parental support) to extend international opportunities for more students, especially those demographics that are poorly represented in the study abroad population. Hopefully in the near future, instead of “Can I afford to study abroad?” students will ask: “Can I afford NOT to study abroad?”


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Economics and Education
Thesis Advisors
Tsang, Mun C.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 5, 2016