Assessing Study Abroad: Rubric Shopping, Managerialism, and Audit Culture at the Neoliberal University




Study abroad assessment, taxonomies of learning, academic capitalism, intercultural competence, intercultural communication, global citizenship, assessment tools


This article investigates the increasing prominence of intercultural and global skills assessment in study abroad administration and pedagogy, and how it influences the practice of international education and the roles it plays in the administrative spaces of U.S. higher education. Drawing on a series of interviews with administrators, faculty leaders, and international programs staff, as well as the authors’ experience in international education, this essay explores the diverse functions served by assessment rubrics in real-world educational contexts. Drawing on the work of Shore (2008), Wright and Shore (2017), Doerr (2015, 2017), Slaughter (2014), and Slaughter et al. (2004), we first discuss the rise in popularity of quantitative assessment tools that purport to measure individuals’ and groups’ intercultural abilities, awareness, or “competence,” in the context of neoliberalization and “audit culture” in higher education. We then describe the results of our qualitative research, focusing on (1) the diverse relationships different faculty, staff, and administrators have to assessment rubrics and their implementation; (2) their importance in administrative decision making and accreditation processes; (3) their relationship to neoliberalization concerns in international education and its increasing professionalization; and (4) the role these rubrics can play in promoting intentional program design and pedagogy. We demonstrate that international programs stakeholders engage in what we call rubric shopping, in which they move between different assessment tools and implement them in different ways and toward different ends, for a variety of contrasting reasons. We argue that these rubrics’ power in administrative spaces comes from the reification of authored concepts like “global citizenship” and “intercultural competence,” along with the scientism of the tools themselves; this cultivates a fuzzy, variable perception of positivism that is juxtaposed to and undermined by the ongoing practice of rubric shopping, among other factors. Finally, we encourage study abroad practitioners maintain a degree of critical distance from the field of intercultural skills assessment, while recognizing its utility in advocating for particular outcomes and pedagogical interventions.


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Author Biographies

Gareth Barkin, University of Puget Sound

Gareth Barkin is a sociocultural anthropologist whose research is focused on different intersections of neoliberalism and cultural representation in and of Southeast Asia. His early research focused on neoliberal and religious intersections among mass media producers in Indonesia; his current work examines study abroad at U.S. universities and has focused on market-driven representation of culture, the role of provider agencies in shaping programs, assessment cultures and related metrics, and pedagogical best practices.

Lauren Collins, University of Colorado at Boulder

Lauren Collins is a higher education scholar whose work explores the relationship between the United States’ global power status and the practice of global education, especially economic and socio-cultural impacts of global education programs on local communities. She is particularly interested in how communities are building global education program provision infrastructure in response to the desires of U.S. study abroad programs to place students in “non-traditional” experiences.


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How to Cite

Barkin, G., & Collins, L. (2023). Assessing Study Abroad: Rubric Shopping, Managerialism, and Audit Culture at the Neoliberal University. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 35(1), 52–81.



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