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Are Some Horizons Broader than Others? Study Abroad, Inequality, and the Influence on Careers and Education.

Study abroad is one of the main ways in which higher education institutions provide students with the opportunity to gain international experiences. While study abroad is mostly discussed in terms of the beneficial effects on students’ learning and development, the results in this dissertation indicate that study abroad works for some but disadvantages other students. Based on nationally representative U.S. data, I examined 1) disparities in students’ opportunities to study abroad as well as the effect of study abroad on the socioeconomic outcomes 2) early career income and 3) graduate school enrollment. The combined studies in this dissertation provided insight into how study abroad may contribute to the reproduction of social inequality. The first study indicated disparities in students’ opportunities to study abroad. Specifically, first generation, low-income students, students of color and rural students tend to study abroad less often than their peers. In the second study, I found that participation in study abroad did not result in a higher income within the four years after students graduated from their undergraduate degree. This suggests that there is no immediate effect of studying abroad on social mobility in terms of early career income. However, the third study showed that students who studied abroad were slightly more likely to enroll in graduate school. This may mean that studying abroad likely does have an indirect effect on income but only at later career stages. My studies indicate that studying abroad does not reproduce social inequality directly in terms of early career income but that it may do so indirectly through increased graduate school attendance. Based on the results of the three studies, I provide key recommendations for future research on study abroad. Moreover, I suggest ideas on how higher education institutions and their international offices can develop policies that address disparities in study abroad opportunities. In doing so, higher education can work towards a more equitable system in which all students have the opportunity to gain international and intercultural experiences that help them and those around them flourish.
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