Developing a Faculty-Led Study Abroad Program

The Center for International Education (CIE) appreciates your interest in developing a faculty-led study abroad program. The CIE Study Abroad Office looks forward to assisting you in what will be a richly rewarding opportunity, both for your own professional development and the academic development of UWM students.

As you no doubt realize, there is a lot of work involved in developing and producing a successful faculty-led study abroad program. The good news, though, is that you are not alone in this endeavor. The CIE Study Abroad Office is here to work with you, and guide you along the process: from idea to implementation. There are a lot of components that make up a faculty-led program, certainly more than a course offered here on campus, and some you might not have even considered.

With years of experience and knowledgeable staff, the CIE Study Abroad Office is your partner in making your study abroad program a reality. What follows is a collection of guidelines, resources, and timelines for you to use in the development of your program.

For those already done with the program development piece, you can skip to the forms and submission details section.

As you are thinking about when you might want to lead a program keep in mind that the development process starts well in advance of actually going abroad. The CIE Study Abroad Office operates two distinct program cycles each year, and because of the long development process, they will inevitably overlap.

Please reference the Study Abroad Program Development Timeline for a general overview of the timeframe for the process.

Getting Started
In today’s globalized world, there is an ever-increasing interest in international education. At UWM our students mirror this interest, and data shows that as many as 80% of incoming freshman indicate a desire to study abroad. Your willingness to lead a study abroad program enables UWM to offer a broad range of curricular options to students seeking an international experience, and in doing so you are providing them with life-changing experiences.

Students here at UWM travel far and wide in their international studies, and the largest percentage of them do so on faculty-led programs. Generally occurring during the summer term or during UWinteriM, these programs provide an opportunity for students to earn credits toward their degree, and often even toward their major. The additional comfort and confidence that comes from knowing their faculty leader is a strong draw for those who aren’t experienced travelers. Frequently, these programs serve as a launching point for further international activities, as numerous students participate in more than one program.

The UW-System is a proponent of international education and has developed specific guidelines (UW System Administrative Policy 145, UW System Administrative Policy 145A, UW System Administrative Policy 146, UW System Administrative Policy 147, UW System Administrative Policy 148) governing how study abroad programs are to be conducted and budgeted. In line with UW-System guidelines, a faculty-led study abroad program is one that:

  • Is taught outside the United States;
  • Involves a UWM faculty member (including adjunct) either as an instructor or on-site coordinator;
  • Involves a group of students going to the same location for the same time period;
  • Allows students to earn UWM credit that is taken for a grade, listed on their transcript, and included in their GPA, similar to on-campus courses;
  • Is self-supporting and does not involve regular tuition payments; and
  • Is sponsored or supported by CIE.

State and campus guidelines require that for-credit, faculty-led international education programs be administered by CIE.

Being a Faculty Leader
Faculty-led programs are as rewarding as they are involved. A faculty leader wears many hats: instructor, logistical coordinator, counselor (both academic and personal), and, at times, disciplinarian. Is the position of faculty leader one you will be comfortable filling?

Running a faculty-led program is a full-time commitment for the duration of the program. It is very different from, and much more demanding than, teaching on campus, as leaders are relatively isolated from UWM and are often forced to function without many permanent on-site facilities. In short, faculty leaders must have the talents and skills necessary to cope with the diverse responsibilities their program demands.

Faculty leaders should have:

  • First-hand, specifically relevant experience in the country or countries involved, and the knowledge and expertise to achieve the goals of the program and ensure the health and safety of participants.
  • Academic expertise in the content areas covered by courses for which credit will be awarded.
  • Organizing and planning skills, and the ability to keep track of a number of details simultaneously.
  • Recruitment techniques and enthusiasm – you must be willing to spend time speaking with students to promote the program.
  • Good health, to handle the physical and emotional demands of the program overseas.
  • Leadership qualities and willingness to take charge in any situation where students need to be directed, rather than consulted.
  • Appreciation for the increased contact with students that is inevitable in an overseas setting.

Faculty leaders are also expected to set a good example for participants and are required to follow UWM’s policies, procedures and code of conduct, host institution policy (if applicable), U.S. law and host country law.

This is definitely not an experience for the faint of heart. That said, however, it can be very rewarding professionally and, for most students, will be the most memorable part of their collegiate educational experience.

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  • Understand the culture in which the program is conducted, and design an academically focused program that incorporates essential elements of the local culture and environment into the academic content of the program.
  • Plan ahead for potential risks and communicate risks and plans to students.
  • Conduct pre-departure student orientations and attend faculty orientation.
  • Explain your role and responsibilities, and your assistant’s, if applicable, to students.
  • Explain program requirements to students.
  • Maintain current contact information for campus support offices and on-site resources.
  • Adhere to standards of professional conduct, acting prudently and reasonably.
  • Explain cultural and behavioral requirements of foreign venue, reminding students that they are perceived as representatives of UWM and of the United States.
  • Deliver the academic portion of the program and report grades upon completion of the program.
  • Ensure that contact hour minimums are met, the itinerary is followed, and the course objectives and learning outcomes are achieved.
  • Exercise caution before engaging the services of local travel/tour operators, or a local transportation company of a driver. Do not make adjustments to the itinerary, modes of transport, or formal program activities without consulting CIE. Err on the side of caution when your students’ safety is at stake. Know what to do in case of an emergency. Develop an emergency action plan. Keep the health forms for each student with you on-site to effectively deal with individual health emergencies.
  • Complete and submit Incident Report Form(s), as needed.
  • Perform appropriate investigation/follow up concerning behavior issues and complaints.
  • Keep CIE informed of student status changes, such as disenrollment, probation, major illness, accidents, and protracted absence.
  • Within 30 days of returning, account for all expenditures by turning in all receipts for your Travel Expense Report to the CIE Study Abroad Office.
  • After the program has ended, meet with CIE staff to review program experience.
CIE Study Abroad Office Responsibilities
  • Consult with faculty leaders during the program development process.
  • Assist with the establishment of a budget that meets university and UW-System guidelines.
  • Determine payment schedules for program expenses.
  • Coordinate with UWM offices for review and approval of program invoices and contracts with overseas vendors.
  • Make payments to on-site program vendors, as necessary.
  • Assist leaders in developing program safety assessments.
  • Monitor world events and U.S. State Department reports on program location safety.
  • Provide marketing support, which includes: posting your program on the CIE website; inclusion of your program in the CIE study abroad fair; creating program flyers to be displayed in CIE and used by the faculty leader for recruitment; and referrals to your program in peer presenting and advising sessions.
  • Assist students with financial aid by preparing program-specific financial aid budgets.
  • Maintain an online application process for students that complies with all higher education regulations (FERPA, ADA, etc.).
  • Design, distribute, and collect forms from students.
  • Review discipline records for all participating students.
  • Assist leaders with students who have disabilities or misconduct records.
  • Collect payments from students and depositing them into their PAWS accounts.
  • Ensure the availability of funds, which will cover program expenses.
  • Obtain travel advance funds for faculty leaders and process salary for them.
  • Register students in courses.
  • Purchase international health insurance for students and program leaders.
  • Provide all students with a general and site-specific orientation and general handbook.
  • Conduct faculty leader pre-departure orientation.
  • Process expense reconciliation with UWM’s travel and accounting offices
  • Register students/groups with overseas embassy/consulate.
  • Coordinate university response in the event of an emergency.
  • Bear financial and legal risks for the program. This includes covering unexpected and unavoidable expenses leading to negative balances in a program budget.
  • Provide overall guidance and help throughout the process.

Design Considerations

What to think about in designing your program? There is a lot consider! A study abroad program, unlike a course on campus, is a 24/7 undertaking. Yes, the students will be asleep for some of those, but not as many as you might think – or as you might be. The following list breaks these considerations out into some general categories. Keep in mind, though, that the incredibly variety of destinations, academic foci, learning objectives, and your individual preferences make this list from comprehensive. It is nothing more than a place to start.

The Learning Environment
  • A course need not, but may, be modeled after a course you normally teach on campus. Adapting a syllabus you already have makes the process much easier, especially since the syllabus is already approved and you know the content well.
  • Don’t ignore the location – it’s the whole reason for going there in the first place! A well-designed program will combine academic learning with cross-cultural experience and be designed to make extensive use of the physical, human, and cultural resources of the host environment. Field trips, site visits, and other cultural activities integrated into the course material should provide an in-depth view of the host country in order to enhance the classroom experience.
  • Your school or college will ultimately determine the number of credits awarded for your program. Credits awarded in an overseas setting are based on the same formula used for regular UWM classes: one credit per each 15 hours of formal instruction or 45 contact hours for a three-credit course. Credit requirements can include guest lectures and documented, organized experiential activities that support the class work (e.g. excursions, field trips, museum visits, as well as organized language lab or computer lab activities). Time traveling to and from experiential activities is not included in this calculation, unless you are able to make a case for lectures on a chartered bus. But keep in mind that the concept of learning by osmosis (living in the overseas location for a period of time) is not a sufficient basis for awarding credit.
  • The academic rigor of the program must meet UWM standards. This is an important consideration, and one that the CIE Study Abroad Office takes seriously. A common criticism levied against study abroad programs is that they lack academic rigor, and are nothing more than informative tours to international locations. We know that this is not the case, and together with faculty like you we work hard to deliver high quality, academically rigorous study abroad programs.
  • Be specific in identifying the educational objectives of the program, but also consider how your program focus, and/or the location, can crossover into other disciplines. Cross-listing your program with another area on campus can greatly broaden the appeal of the program, and inter-disciplinary programs benefit from a wonderful mix of perspectives, opinions and insights. The more diverse your student group is, the more diverse the ensuing discussions will be. 
Program Providers
  • Program Providers are companies or organizations that specialized in providing customized, faculty-led program support. They arrange the various components and details of a program. They work closely with you, as well as coordinate with the CIE Study Abroad Office to design a program that meets your objectives and preferences, while also conforming to UWM’s and CIE’s regulations and guidelines.
  • CIE works with many custom faculty-led program providers, and different companies have different approaches, areas of expertise, pricing models, and geographic limitations. Depending on your program, CIE can make recommendations to best suit your goals and objectives.
  • For first-time faculty leaders, and especially for faculty leaders without a program assistant, the use of a program provider is strongly encouraged. Such organizations allow faculty leaders to focus on the academic components of their program while they organize housing, classroom space, and any excursions or activities you may request.
  • While working with providers simplifies the program development process immensely, it does come at a cost. This is important to consider, as it may necessitate a larger group size, or a higher per student cost. But, the cost incurred from a provider easily pays for itself through the delivery of a seamless, high quality program.
  • Some faculty-led programs use universities with which an existing UWM inter-institutional partnership exists. Through this partnership the partner institution arranges some of the services otherwise facilitated and/or deliver through a provider. If this is something you are interested in, please contact the Director of Study Abroad for further discussion. Also, please note that if there is not already an existing partnership one can be developed, but the necessary prep and lead-time exceeds the normal study abroad program development. For more information on this please visit the international partnership section of CIE’s website.
  • Accommodation varies widely among faculty-led programs, with certain types lending themselves more to certain program models. Accommodation in hostels or hotels is most convenient for faculty-led programs, with double-occupancy rooms being the norm.
  • For programs that are longer, and focused on a specific city or area, certain long-stay student housing options may be a good option.
  • Programs that move around a lot can be more expensive, especially as hotels are the best housing option in this model, and can be pricier than options like hostels, or long-stay student residences.
  • If you are working with a program provider, the company can often provide housing or recommend a housing provider. This often proves to be simpler and more economical, and much easier, than you making arrangements on your own.
  • For security and risk management purposes, faculty members are encouraged to stay in the same housing provided for participants.
  • Programs are not required to provide meals. Including a few group meals, such as a welcome and farewell dinner can help build cohesiveness in your program. Also, keep in mind that a group meal can be a more convenient and timely solution, as opposed to releasing the students to do their own thing. This is an important consideration when planning excursions.
  • Breakfast isn’t always included in the cost of a hotel, but when evaluating hotel options, you may want to give preference to those that do include it. Not only does making use of lodging that includes some or all meals help to reduce the overall program cost, it also provides a daily meeting to check in with the students and prepare for the day’s schedule.
  • If you opt not to include some or all meals, or are unable to arrange this, be sure you know how/where students will get their meals. Accurate cost estimates for student expenses in this area will also be essential to help students plan. And, they will look to you for guidance on where to eat, especially when arriving in a new location.
  • Excursions and field trips are an integral part of a faculty-led program. These activities, coupled with your academic content, are the core substance of the program. They are the opportunity for first-person, experiential learning. The students will want to know what will take place during the program, and a well-written and detailed description of the excursions and activities will go a long way in getting students interested.
  • Costs for excursions will be budgeted into the program, so it will be important to do some research on transportation, lodging, and admissions costs related to excursions while you are working on the overall proposal. The more detail you provide early in the process, the faster things will go in the planning phase.
  • Excursions should be relevant to the purpose of the program, take advantage of the locale, and be realistic in terms of time, distance, and cost. And, consider the overall itinerary and travel schedule. You want to find a balance between including a lot, and not overwhelming yourself and the students.
Permits and Visas
  • Entry requirements and visas are an important consideration, especially when looking to many non-traditional destinations. In addition to country-specific requirements, the citizenship of students can dictate the process necessary to enter, or sometimes even just to transit. While the CIE Study Abroad Office can be a resource in this, the earlier you start and the more you communicate with CIE during the development process, the easier it will be to plan for visas and entry requirements.
  • Additionally, some countries require special permits for activities like field research, organized tours to certain locations, and/or filming. This is not a comprehensive list, and as the proposing faculty member, the responsibility for identifying the restrictions or requirements on these types of activities rests with you.
Some Final Considerations

In an effort to help with recruitment efforts, and in order to maintain a diverse range of program options for students, CIE recommends you consider the following tips and ideas as you design your new program:

  • New programs should complement, rather than compete with, existing UWM programs.
  • Consider non-traditional destinations. Programs to Western Europe are great, but also consider locales such as South America, Southeast Asia, Africa, and even part of Eastern Europe. These destinations can offer a lot, and may (though not always) be more cost-effective than Western Europe.
  • To ensure better rates of participation and greater accessibility program costs should be kept as low as possible. Consider that for many programs, especially in the summer, students are incurring a lost-opportunity cost because they won’t be working while they are abroad.
  • Students need to enroll in a minimum of 6 credit hours during the summer in order to maintain eligibility for financial aid. Students can meet this requirement by pairing an on-campus course with a 3-credit study abroad program. But, those programs that offer students 6 credits are attractive by virtue of already meeting that minimum. Generally speaking, students find a 6-credit option to be the most cost-effective.
  • Carefully consider your program curriculum. Students participating in study abroad programs are usually looking to fulfill major/minor/general education requirements. The more you can align your course with these core requirements, the more students will be interested in signing up for your program.

Your program should be designed with student safety in mind and in such a way that you feel you will be able to adequately ensure the safety and security of your group of students. Traveling to countries on the U.S. Department of State (DOS) Travel Warning List is only allowed with prior approval from the CIE Study Abroad Office and International Travel Safety Committee (ITSC). An active DOS Travel Warning does not immediately rule out a destination, nor is the presence or absence of a DOS Travel Warning the only trigger for ITSC review of a program. The ITSC meets as-needed, and programs are submitted for ITSC review by the Director of Study Abroad.

From Idea to Proposal

Moving your idea from your notes and conversations into an actual proposal is where the CIE Study Abroad Office can be a valuable partner. If you haven’t already, it is important to contact the office and begin discussing your program idea with the Director of Study Abroad. That dialogue will help give shape and structure to your idea. Topics like program size, working with a provider, cross-listing your course, and marketing and promotion will get the ball rolling. In that discussion you and the Director will also review the timeline for submitting your proposal.

A program proposal consists of four required components:

  1. A program proposal form, with the necessary signatures
  2. A detailed itinerary
  3. A course syllabus
  4. A program budget

The Submitting a Program Proposal section has information and instructions on that process. But before you get to that point, it may be helpful to understand the different components.

The proposal form is where you identify the basic elements of your program: who, what, where and when – the how comes later. This is also where you’ll name the course, and indicate essential elements like number of credits, undergraduate, graduate or both, and also make any cross-listings with other departments or disciplines.

The detailed itinerary and course syllabus are closely connected, as the structure of the program exists within those two pieces. If you’re adapting an existing course then you’ll already have a syllabus to guide the development of your itinerary. Otherwise, if you’re starting from scratch, consider developing these in parallel, as one will surely inform the other.

The program budget is often the trickiest to develop. As this is just a draft, don’t stress too much about making the actual costs and numbers perfect, but rather focusing on obtaining reliable quotes and price estimates for the different components of your program. The CIE Study Abroad Office will be relying on you to provide these initial quotes, as the decisions about what elements to include, and how to evaluate their respective costs, ultimately lies with you.

At any point in the process you can reach out to the Director of Study Abroad for input, guidance or feedback. While you are the engine driving the development of the program, you are not in it alone. And, once you have all of these pieces assembled, you are ready to submit.