Borders or Barriers? Assessing Geographic, Economic, and Institutional Factors Related to Study Abroad Access and Participation at Four-Year Colleges and Universities


  • Melissa Whatley SIT Graduate Institute
  • Andrew Crain University of Missouri System
  • Joshua Patterson University of Georgia



Institutional stratification, nationally-representative, spatial inequality, study abroad


Using data from public and private not-for-profit US higher education institutions, this study explores the extent to which access to and participation in study abroad is spatially stratified. Drawing from spatial inequality theory, we examine three categories of spatially variable indicators: economic structures, institutional arrangements, and spatial situation/site factors. Findings provide evidence of inequitable spatial relations in study abroad. More specifically, we found that the institutional arrangements of higher education institutions, many of which are intimately linked to spatiality, were significant predictors of both whether an institution offered study abroad and how many students participated. For example, research institutions are more likely to be located in urban areas, and our results indicated that these institutions were more likely to offer study abroad programs. These results point to stratification of both access to and participation in study abroad and have key implications for international education practice and future research.

Abstract in Spanish

Usando datos de instituciones de educación superior estadounidenses públicas y privadas sin fines de lucro, este estudio explora la estratificación espacial a través de cuestiones de acceso y participación en estudios en el extranjero. A partir de la teoría de la desigualdad espacial, examinamos tres categorías de indicadores espacialmente variables: estructuras económicas, arreglos institucionales y factores de situación/lugar espacial. Los hallazgos ofrecen evidencia de relaciones espaciales desiguales en los estudios en el extranjero. Más específicamente, encontramos que los arreglos institucionales de instituciones de educación superior, muchos de los cuales están íntimamente vinculados a la espacialidad, son predictores significativos tanto de si una institución ofrece estudios en el extranjero como de cuántos estudiantes participan. Por ejemplo, es más probable que las instituciones con enfoque en la investigación se ubiquen en áreas urbanas, y nuestros resultados indican que es más probable que estas instituciones ofrezcan programas de estudio en el extranjero. Estos resultados indican una estratificación no solo de acceso, sino también de participación en estudios en el extranjero, las cuales tienen implicaciones importantes para la práctica de la educación internacional y la investigación futura.


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Author Biographies

Melissa Whatley, SIT Graduate Institute

Melissa Whatley, PhD, is an assistant professor of international and global education at the School for International Training’s Graduate Institute. Her research uses quantitative and mixed-methods approaches to improve understanding of policies and practices that impact access and equity in U.S. international education, particularly in the community college context. She is the 2023 recipient of NAFSA’s Innovative Research in International Education award.

Andrew Crain, University of Missouri System

Andrew Crain, Ph.D., is a higher education scholar-practitioner with research expertise in higher education policy, STEM talent development, and rural students. He is currently serving as an executive search consultant for the Missouri University of Science and Technology. Andrew holds a doctoral degree in higher education from the Louise McBee Institute at the University of Georgia.

Joshua Patterson, University of Georgia

Joshua Patterson, Ph.D., conducts research on higher education policy and practice as they relate to curriculum; religious, secular, and spiritual identities; and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Patterson is a mixed methods researcher with experience in faculty development, institutional research, and research consulting in higher education. He is also a first-generation college graduate and is interested in the experiences and success of rural and first-generation students.


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How to Cite

Whatley, M., Crain, A., & Patterson, J. (2024). Borders or Barriers? Assessing Geographic, Economic, and Institutional Factors Related to Study Abroad Access and Participation at Four-Year Colleges and Universities. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 36(1), 32–60.



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