Strategies to Develop a Competitive Faculty-led Program

There is nothing more frustrating than putting your time and energy into something, only to have it fail in the end. Unless your faculty-led program is subsidized by a college or university, it will likely require a minimum enrollment to avoid cancellation. This means that you’ll need a competitive program and a great marketing plan to make it work. Here’s how to get to started…

Look for trends. As a study abroad director responsible for developing programs abroad, I used the IIE Fast Facts to start my research every year. You’ll find data about funding, selected fields of study, race and ethnicity, host regions, destinations, duration, participation, and nontraditional forms of study abroad. It’s a couple of years behind—the 2017 version provides destination information for 2014/15 and 2015/16 and compares the change between the two academic years.

While the top destinations don’t seem to shift much (UK, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, etc.), I like to look at the percentage change from one year to the next, to identify the hottest trends. For example, Cuba had the highest percent change at 58.6%, while Japan came in second at 18% growth, and the Netherlands came in third at 17.2 percent. Out of the top 25 destinations, those that are high on the list and those who have seen the greatest growth are probably good choices. I wouldn’t select destinations that have high negative growth rates, and if there is negative growth at all, I’d want to know why.

Fast Facts 2017 also reveals that 71.6% of students who participate in study abroad are White and 54.4% go to Europe. A whooping 63% of all U.S. students who study abroad go on short-term programs (summer or less than 8 weeks). To my surprise, the top major fields of study were science, technology, engineering & math, followed by business and social sciences. Ironically, foreign languages, international studies, and arts came last. This didn’t used to be the case back in the day. All of this information, coupled with the data and culture of your institution, can help you identify where to start a new faculty-led program with a high chance of success.

If there’s already a faculty-led program to a destination you’re considering, it might be a good idea to partner with the faculty members who lead it rather than setting your program up as their competition. Cross-discipline programs improve the diversity of your group, enhance learning, and increase the marketing pool from which you can attain your minimum number of participants. Collaboration is almost always a smart move, not to mention it makes your life easier by spreading the work load and building on the other’s skill set.

Another consideration is cost of living. Studying abroad can be expensive, so if you find a location with low cost of living, you can create a program fee that’s much less than your competition. This will make your program an attractive option for students who don’t want to break the bank or don’t have enough financial aid to cover a more expensive program. Such countries include Ecuador, Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Philippines, Thailand, and China, among others. What’s most important is making sure that strong health and safety protocols are in place.

Faculty-led programs are an excellent way for untraveled U.S. students to get a taste for international study. They are less intimidating and time consuming, and give faculty a change of scenery and pace. While leaders become much more than teachers on these programs, they usually find it rewarding and continue leading programs year after year. Sometimes they lead two programs, one over spring or winter break and one over the summer. And sometimes they develop a semester-long program with rotating faculty. A great resource to get started with your planning is Faculty-Led 360: Guide to Successful Study Abroad by Melanie McCallon and Bill Holmes. Amazon has been running a great deal on this title for almost 60% off.

By Wendy Williamson, international education consultant, nomad mother, and author of Love Evil: To Whom my Heart Falls Prey and Study Abroad 101


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