The Office of International Programs is hoping to grow despite the current economic downturn that's affecting a lot of other schools.
According to a Nov. 16 Chronicle of Higher Education article, the number of students studying abroad nationwide has only grown 1.3 percent in 2010-11.
At JMU, 1,100 students went abroad in 2010-2011, according to the Office of International Program's annual report. That number dropped in 2011-2012 to 1,019.
But Lauren Franson, assistant director of study abroad at the oIP, remains optimistic about the developing opportunities for students and faculty to study abroad.
For the past three years, JMU ranked second this year among other master's level schools in the nation for study abroad participation in the Institute of International Education's annual Open Doors report and has consistently seen at least 1,000 students participate in study abroad programs each year since 2009.
"I'm proud of that number and I hope that we continue to be on that forefront," Franson said. "Maybe study abroad is stagnating a bit across the board, but I think the best way to get students to go abroad is create innovative programs and find ones that fit specific majors."
Instead, oIP is looking to diversify the pool of students that go abroad and encourage those students to spend more time overseas in non-English speaking countries.
Franson said JMU usually sends students out into programs that span over 45 different countries including the United Kingdom, China, Argentina, Morocco and Australia.
Most of the students who choose to go abroad are part of the College of Arts and Letters. But Franson said that there's been an increase in students in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics majors going abroad.
She said it's harder to get STEM students overseas because of the rigorous curriculum that exists on campus, but the heavy faculty involvement in creating and leading programs motivates students to go abroad.
"If you match up what a STEM student would be studying here it might not fit the same criteria as a European university," Franson said. "So what we would do and why our numbers are so high is it's our faculty teaching students abroad."
Students can participate in spring break programs, short-term programs in the summer, semester-long programs and full-year programs.
JMU offers about 60 short-term programs to students, which Franson says appeal to students in many different majors. Short-term programs, she added, are more financially feasible for students.
"I think it's the commitment of our faculty to taking students abroad, to creating these programs," Franson said. "We do have 60 different programs out there, so that speaks to students in a lot of areas."
Costs for study abroad programs depend on the length and location of the program, Franson said. According to the oIP, the current highest projected fee for short term programs is $6,700 for the China Summer Program. The least expensive is $800 for the JMU in LA program.
Emily Lucas-Fitzpatrick, a fifth-year senior SMAD major, spent a month abroad in Urbino, Italy this past summer taking language and journalism classes, writing and traveling with 40 other students from JMU and other parts of the country.
Lucas-Fitzpatrick said she had wanted to study abroad since her freshman year, but was hesitant due to the high cost. She ultimately was able to go after receiving a scholarship and saving money over time.
She also said she's noticed growth in opportunities for JMU students to study abroad since her freshman year, particularly in the SMAD program.
"If I hadn't gotten the scholarship to go abroad, I wouldn't have been able to — that was definitely a pivotal part of it," Lucas-Fitzpatrick said. "I had to save up a lot of money and ask family members and do a lot of things to be able to afford it."
Morgan Benton, an ISAT professor designed his summer program in Japan to be attractive to many students, despite the high costs for studying abroad. Benton said that participants don't have to speak Japanese to go on the trip.
Participants, Benton said, actually live with Japanese families during their time overseas and are given ample opportunities to experience both the culture personally and academically.
"It's expensive; I'm amazed that anyone can go," Benton said. "The thing is that studying abroad changes you forever. I think everyone, regardless of their major, can benefit from experience where you're forced to re-evaulate your perspectives."
Benton said he's reached out to professors at other universities and has been able to include students from Virginia Tech and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst on his past trips.
Fellow ISAT professor, Karim Altaii, is co-directing a month-long trip to Jordan this summer with Israa Alhassani, a professor of Arabic. Altaii said that they've been advertising their program in Arabic classes and encouraging students in many other areas of study besides language majors to participate.
The Jordan program offers classes that would be of interest to history, international affairs, business and art majors. He added that the program would benefit students by widening their perspectives about a commonly misunderstood culture.
"Our students and our side needs to connect with countries that don't look like us and speak like us," Altaii said. "Almost every day you hear in the news something about the the Middle East, and it's something negative. I cannot change that, but I can let them experience it for themselves."
Altaii also said that the program tends to attract second-year students who have had experience in the arabic language and want to be immersed in both the language and culture.
"It's worth it," Franson said. "Whatever experience you have abroad, whether that be the two-week travel opportunity to see cultural experience, or live there and become part of the daily routine. Any part of that is worth it."