William & Mary is once again first among public universities in the nation for study-abroad participation according to the Open Doors 2023 Report on International Educational Exchange, released Nov. 13 by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Institute of International Education (IIE).

William & Mary also ranks seventh nationally among all doctoral-granting universities – public and private.

William & Mary has consistently ranked highly in study-abroad participation, ranking first 10 times over the last 15 years. Last year, Open Doors placed W&M fourth among public universities.

In recent years, study abroad has gotten more attention as an example of applied learning at its best. Employers state that the kind of intercultural knowledge acquired on study-abroad programs is an asset in hiring. Careers is one of four cornerstone initiatives in William & Mary’s Vision 2026 strategic plan.

“While the rankings are no doubt significant, William & Mary remains among the national leaders in study abroad in terms of the quality of the experience as well as the number of participants,” said Teresa Longo, associate provost for international affairs. “Together with our partners abroad, William & Mary has invested in global experiences tied to academic excellence, career readiness and to our students’ understanding of their place in the world.”

People wearing lab coats and masks hold notebooks and stand in a lab
Winter study-abroad programs are increasingly in demand, especially for STEM students. Here, students in the winter program at Heidelberg got experience at the German Cancer Research Institute dipeptide analysis lab. Learn more in this news story. (Photo courtesy of Sam Rubin ’24)

The percentages and ranking are calculated using IIE criteria. For instance, IIE does not include for consideration in their data international students who are studying abroad. The report also summarizes study-abroad data from the previous academic year in order to allow students to return from abroad and to receive academic credit from their institutions before being counted.

According to the current report, by IIE criteria, 710 William & Mary undergraduate students in the 2021-2022 academic year had studied abroad for academic credit at some point during their undergraduate careers. IIE calculates this to be a participation rate by time of graduation of 47.8%. The annual percentage represents a snapshot of study-abroad participation as it relates to academic credit before graduation, rather than the numbers of students participating in programs during a given year.

People stand in the ruins of a building
W&M students travel all over the world. This photo was taken by a student on a W&M summer program in Mauritius in 2019. It won the “Global Classroom” category in the study abroad photo contest that year. (Photo by Christopher Balbo ’20)

William & Mary’s Reves Center for International Studies offers students a diverse selection of study abroad opportunities through the Global Education Office (GEO), including more than $600,000 annually for study-abroad scholarships as one of many efforts to reduce financial barriers. Students receive support, information, resources and guidance on various study-abroad programs and international university exchanges through GEO, which also provides workshops, peer advising and re-entry assistance for students returning from their study-abroad experience.

“W&M students and the W&M community continue to deeply value the transformative power of study abroad experiences as reflected in the W&M COLL curriculum,” said Sylvia Mitterndorfer, director of the Global Education Office and director of global partnerships for the Reves Center.

“We are heartened to see this sustained enthusiasm and recognition of the importance of cross-cultural and international experiential learning in this interconnected world. W&M students study abroad through a broad range of programs, including participating in internships and fellowships as well as conducting research overseas. Access and inclusive excellence continue to be front of mind for the Reves Center as we develop new programs to meet evolving student academic needs, work to address potential barriers for global experiences and prepare students for life abroad and after graduation. Our faculty, global partners and institutional supporters have been important champions for this work. “

A group poses for a photo at the edge of a cliff overlooking a body of water and mountains
The Cape Town summer program mixes classroom instruction and hands-on service learning, allowing students to study and experience how post-Apartheid South Africa is working to combat racial, ethnic, economic and political disparity. The theme of the program varies according to the faculty program director and has ranged from dance to public health. (Photo courtesy of the Reves Center)

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Lee Satterfield noted the importance of study abroad in her remarks at the Open Doors press conference.

“International education, both here at home and abroad, is the ultimate unifier – there is something for everyone,” said Satterfield, who noted her college-aged son studied abroad during the spring semester of 2023. “American students from two-year community colleges to four-year universities and beyond, across a wide-range of fields, can study abroad all over the world and bring new perspectives back to their communities.”

The U.S. study-abroad total reflects the 2021-2022 academic year when travel and study-abroad programming were still affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the fall and winter. The rebound signals a critical turning point in students’ ability to pursue in-person experiences abroad safely.

More than 1 million international students in the U.S.

The Open Doors report shows that 1,057,188 international students from more than 200 places of origin studied at U.S. higher education institutions during the 2022-2023 academic year, a 12% increase compared to the previous academic year and the fastest growth rate in more than 40 years.

A group of people smile at the camera while sitting at a table set for Thanksgiving
The International Family Network provides support and friendship to W&M’s international community. Reves staff organize outings, English conversation classes and events — including a traditional Thanksgiving meal with neighbors — to introduce the family members of our international students, scholars, faculty and staff to the community and help them feel both welcome and at comfortable in their new environment. (Courtesy photo)

According to the Open Doors report, for the first time since 2014-2015, international student enrollment across all academic levels increased in 2022-2023. Graduate student enrollment increased the most, with 467,027 international students pursuing master’s, doctorate or professional degrees (+21% year-over-year). Undergraduate student enrollment grew (+1% year-over-year) for the first time in five years. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, international students accounted for 6% of the total higher education population and contributed nearly $38 billion to the U.S. economy in 2022.

“Over 1 million international students studying in the U.S. reflects a strong rebound, with the number approaching pre-pandemic levels. This reinforces that the U.S. remains the destination of choice for international students wishing to study abroad, as it has been for more than a century,” said Allan E. Goodman, IIE CEO. “The Open Doors 2023 Report emphasizes that international education is resilient and also integral to universities and countries looking to support global innovation, collaboration and peace.”

A person holds a carved pumpkin and stands next to another person wearing glasses
The annual pumpkin carving contest is one of the largest and most popular events ISSP manages. It brings together international students, scholars and their families and community members from the Global Friends Network. Each year a “celebrity judge” picks the winners. In 2023, Provost Peggy Agouris (right) selected the pumpkin carved by Araba Andrews (left) as “Most Traditional.” Andrews is a graduate student at the School of Education from Ghana. (Photo by Kate Hoving)

The International Students, Scholars & Programs (ISSP) office at the Reves Center interacts with more than 800 students, scholars, alumni and dependents annually. William & Mary currently has approximately 600 international students enrolled, both graduate and undergraduate students, across multiple disciplines and professional schools. They represent more than 60 places of origin.

Eva Wong, director of International Students, Scholars and Programs (ISSP) at the Reves Center, notes that the significance of an international academic community lies at the core of the mission of William & Mary.

“International exchange makes our colleges and universities more dynamic for all students and an education at a U.S. institution can have a transformative effect for international students,” said Wong. “Moreover, the careers of all our students will be global ones and employers around the world are competing to attract top talent. Therefore, it is in the university’s interest to grow its global networks that will be crucial in creating partnerships, generating ideas for innovation, and for us to remain competitive in an increasingly connected world.”

The impact of W&M’s global community also has an economic impact on the region. According to data from NAFSA: Association of International Educators, international students and scholars at William & Mary in 2021-2022 had a $31.6 million impact on the 1st U.S. Congressional District’s economy, supporting 381 jobs.