The Many Responsibilities of a Study Abroad Administrator Or How About a Pat on the Back and an Aspirin
In the 1994 February/March edition of the NAFSA Newsletter (now the NAFSA International Educator), I co-authored an article with William Millington, a faculty member at USC, on limiting liability in study abroad. We included a table of legal issues impacting study abroad and—to illustrate the complexity of the job of a study abroad administrator—also included a list of responsibilities that we put under “It’s All Part of the Job Description”. Lisa Loberg, Director of Study Abroad at California Lutheran University; Ann Hubbard, Director, University Relations for Customized Programs and Academic Assessment; and I now present the updated list of responsibilities for Study Abroad Administration and provide a background/framework for the lists updates/changes.
As study abroad administrators, we do our best to prepare students going abroad via pre-departure orientation sessions and 24/7 support throughout the life of their programs. After their experience abroad has ended, we welcome them back to campus, listen to their re-entry “ups and downs”, and in some cases continue to mentor them well after they have graduated from college, but study abroad administration is a complex and multi-faceted enterprise, one that is more akin to running an entire university (in miniature) than directing a single office on a campus. Admissions, financial aid, marketing and outreach, university billing, academic advising, student affairs, even alumni relations are all part of the day-to-day operations. We successfully run our study abroad offices, but somehow our jobs become more and more complicated each year.
The majority of campus-based staff work so fast and furiously it is unsurprising that they report feeling overwhelmed many, if not most, days. Although study abroad is a profession that requires specific knowledge and skills, there are still many instances where faculty or staff from other areas of campus—faculty with release time, career service professionals, or academic affairs administrators—are asked to take on the responsibilities of education abroad programming. The breadth of responsibilities involved in successfully managing an institution’s study abroad programs often requires people who may not be as knowledgebable of the field's requirements to aid in the operation of the study abroad office. And with the recent boom of short-term faculty-led programs going abroad each year, some campuses are even trying to manage all or most of their program arrangements in-house. Short-term programming still requires all the administrative effort of a semester-long program, even though administrators have less time to prepare the programs. This has expanded the knowledge and skills required of staff, and added to their slate of responsibilities. All of this, along with faculty and department-led programs that study abroad staff might not be able to properly monitor, can expose colleges and universities to a greater level of risk and—if something does go wrong—liability.
When making the overall case that a study abroad office has a large amount of responsibility, we hope that the following list helps the faculty and staff you work with better understand what is required of a study abroad office on a daily, weekly, and annual basis:
|Career Coaching||Housing rental practices||Research|
|Communication coordination||Human resource administration||Retention and success supporter|
|Conference presenting||Insurance||Returnee student counseling|
|Contracts negotiation||International communications||Risk management|
|Copy editing||International law||Site evaluation|
|Course development||Internship coordination||Social media coordination|
|Crisis and emergency response management||Institutional research and program assessment||Software management|
|Cross-cultural training||IT and software management||Student affairs administration|
|Currency exchange||Journalist||Student conduct judicial management|
|Curriculum development & integration||Liason with program provider||Student with disabilities management|
|Data analysis||Life coaching||Student health|
|Database management||Marketing and publications||Strategic planning|
|Diplomacy||Multi-lingual transition and interpretation||Scholarship administration|
|Diversity outreach||Mental health and wellness||Student worker supervision and mentoring|
|Drug and alcohol abuse issues||Office management||Survey design & administration|
|Equipment management||Orientation program coordination||Technical writing|
|Event planning||Paralegal responsibilities||Transportation supervision|
|Exchange partner coordination||Parent relations||Travel and tour logistical operations|
|Faculty development||Personal and professional counseling||Transcript and records evaluation|
|Financial aid||Program development||Visa and immigration policies & procedures|
|Global security analysis||Political activism & advocacy||Web design|
|Health and safety practices||Public relations||(Travel) writing|
|Hosting of international guests and visitors||Recruitment||
Some would say it is almost impossible to be in charge of all these roles with a limited staff. So, why do study abroad faculty and staff do what they do? We enjoy working with students, and we know we are helping to remove barriers that might otherwise prevent them from an international learning experience. We see the positive impact on students for cross-cultural literacy, retention and success, personal growth, enhancing career potential, etc. We enjoy working with like-minded colleagues around the world. Our role allows us to be academically focused yet also business-minded on a local and global scale. We also live vicariously through our students, reliving moments of our own international experiences as we help them achieve their own. And in some small way, we believe we are helping to change the world for the better (changing the world, one student at a time…).
But all that we do is still not enough, because there is always more work to be done. Higher education is changing along with student dynamics and expectations. At some point, we need to press pause, take a step back, and really look at the big picture. We need to do some strategic planning before it is done for us. Even with all the work we do every year, only a small percentage of students in U.S. higher education study abroad.
The list included here is not simply to amuse or overwhelm us; rather, it should be seen as a call to action. It should be used as leverage, not for complaining to administration (we don’t want someone else in our place), but as a tool to construct a compelling case that will resonate with decision makers. For example, understanding our role as risk managers can help us make the case for investments in technology. The work we are doing in so many places around the world may help make the case for getting help from study abroad provider organizations.
The fact that we do so much academic advising can point to the overall need for greater faculty involvement and intentional curriculum integration. We’re great at working with students and forging global partnerships; we need to be equally great at working with administrators and partnering with faculty. If we can make it easy for the power players to prioritize study abroad and clearly see the role of international education in achieving their own objectives, we may be able to finally attain sufficient staff and resources to achieve our own goals of greater student participation and meaningful experiences. It’s commendable to start out as a one-person office, but we absolutely cannot stay there.
We hope this list helps you explain to others how much work you do. As was said in the article in 1994, along with using this list to show others the complexity of your efforts, obtain additional resources, and additional support for collaboration, don’t forget to give yourself a “Pat on the Back” (even if it’s after an aspirin) for the important work you do!
We look forward to your feedback on the updated draft list of responsibilities. If you think we are missing an item or could state it more clearly, please e-mail Gary Rhodes at firstname.lastname@example.org (he will share feedback with Lisa and Ann).
Thanks for the important and varied work you do!
Gary, Lisa, & Ann