Global Engagement Solutions for Higher Education


Tackle the Enrollment Cliff with 60% IE Participation

February 13, 2024


From a podcast interview with Alison Nagy, a seasoned professional with over 18 years of expertise in international education, serving as the Associate Director of the Study Abroad and Inbound Programs for International Education at American University.

“We want to make sure that there are options for every student who wants to go abroad.”


Alison Nagy, the Associate Director of Study Abroad and Inbound Programs for international education at American University. Alison shares her insights and experiences on how American University has grown the study abroad programs from a handful to over 100, with a remarkable participation rate of well over 60% from students. She emphasizes the importance of making study abroad attainable for all students, ensuring that there are academic options for a wide variety of majors and that financial barriers are minimized. Alison also discusses the significance of effective communication, data analysis, and departmental buy-in in creating a successful study abroad program.

Expanding Study Abroad Opportunities

When Alison Nagy joined American University’s study abroad office in 2005, the program consisted of only a handful of programs. However, the university has grown its study abroad offerings to over 100 programs in 40 countries under her leadership. This expansion has resulted in an impressive 60% participation rate among students, making international education a top priority at the university.
One of the key factors contributing to this success is the university’s focus on providing academic value. Rather than offering only cohort-based programs, American University has shifted towards direct enrollment options, allowing students to be embedded in programs abroad and continue their major course of study. This approach has made study abroad more accessible to students from a wide range of majors, ensuring that every student has the opportunity to participate.

Additionally, the university has made study abroad affordable for all students. By carefully selecting partner institutions and programs, American University ensures that the cost of studying abroad is equal to or less than the cost of attendance for a semester on campus. Students can also utilize their financial aid packages, except work-study, to cover the costs of studying abroad. This commitment to affordability eliminates financial roadblocks and ensures that every student can afford to go abroad.

Empowering Students Through Communication

American University emphasizes open communication lines to further support students in their study abroad journey. Before opening a study abroad application, students are required to meet with an advisor who provides critical information about the program, including course selection, budgeting, and cultural integration. This one-on-one meeting ensures that students clearly understand the program and can make informed decisions.

Throughout their study abroad experience, American University maintains open communication with students. While on-site, students are encouraged to reach out to the program’s on-site contact for immediate assistance. In emergencies, the university has a system that tracks students’ itineraries and notifies the appropriate parties if any critical issues arise. This proactive approach to communication ensures that students feel supported and safe during their time abroad.

Data-Driven Decision-Making

Data plays a crucial role in American University’s study abroad program. The university has developed an in-house database that tracks the courses students have taken abroad and how they count for credit at the university. This database provides valuable information for academic advisors and helps students understand how their study abroad experience aligns with their major requirements.

By analyzing this data, American University can identify gaps in program offerings and make informed decisions about expanding partnerships and program options. The university also uses data to track student interest and participation, ensuring that study abroad opportunities meet the student body's needs and desires.

The Path to Greater Participation

Alison recommends starting with departmental buy-in for universities looking to increase study-abroad participation. By working closely with academic units, universities can develop guidance for each major, outlining the requirements and options for studying abroad. This collaboration ensures that academic advisors are on board and can provide the necessary support to students.

Alison also suggests focusing on filling gaps in program offerings. Universities can strategically add programs catering to those specific needs by identifying majors or regions with low participation rates. This targeted approach allows for incremental growth and ensures that study-abroad opportunities are available to all students.

“In addition to making sure that there are academic options for every major, we want to make sure that any student can afford to go abroad.”


American University’s success in study abroad participation is a testament to its commitment to academic value, affordability, and accessibility. By providing a wide range of program options, empowering students through communication, and utilizing data-driven decision-making, American University has made studying abroad a top priority for its students. As other universities look to increase participation, they can learn from American University’s approach and work towards making study abroad attainable for every student.

To catch the full interview with Alison, CLICK HERE.