Author: Andrew G. White IV, Ph.D. student in Multi-Sector Communications program
According to Kathy Frankovic, only a third of American adults say they have a valid and unexpired U.S. passport (37%) – about the same percentage as those who have never had a passport at all (38%). Another 20% of Americans have an expired or invalid passport (para. 1). A majority of those with only a high school education or less have never had a passport, while 58% of those with at least a college degree have one that is currently valid.
Denver-based Peterson’s is a company that supports institutions across the United States by helping them to strategically recruit students from across the globe. Via subscription, their services are offered to potential international students that pay cash to universities to gain what they view as a top tier education; the USA is still good for that. These subscriptions support ambitious students with language examination, SAT, GMAT, and writing support. The company also provides information for students who what to generally understand how to apply to school in the USA and, of course, the steps to securing a VISA.
Hundreds, if not thousands of companies like Peterson’s exist around the world and offer similar if not the same services for which they charge a handsome fee, both to the students for helping them get into school and to the schools for the students they send. To maintain deniability as it pertains to the rules of accreditation, universities pretend to believe they do not but most know what the truth is. While this is an important piece of information of which one must take note for later consideration, the point is that the rest of the world seems to understand the importance of exposing students to international environments and the United States does not.
In the 2021 school year there were 914,095 international students in the United States; a COVID-related decrease from the previous year with 1.07 million. The year before, in the opposite direction, 162,633 Americans left the USA to study elsewhere. According to the National Association of Foreign Student Advisors (NAFSA), this stark contrast in study abroad participation is a result of the decentralized nature of the American higher education system which allows for considerable variance from institution to institution and from state to state. If the percentages of participation are reviewed through a demographic lens, however, a different picture is painted with 70% of Caucasian, 8.6 Asian/Pacific Islander, 10.6% Hispanic, and 5.5% African American students studying abroad. According to Moody (2019) of US News & World Report, there are three reasons why this is important:
First, study abroad provides exposure to different systems of governance, education and health care, which may offer a broader understanding of the world. Second, study abroad opportunities are often structured around developing foreign language skills; the immersive nature of an international experience allows students the opportunity to use another tongue every day among native speakers. Finally, experts suggest that the international experience could provide a career boost to study abroad alumni by signaling greater global awareness to employers.
All of these are valid reasons but they do not start at the beginning of the process. The benefits associated with study abroad, and there are surely more than three, begin with the idea that ‘abroad’ exists and that is within reach.
In a city like New York, for example, a person can put on a pair of jeans made in Bangladesh, an undershirt made in Mexico, shoes made in China, glasses made in Malaysia and a coat made in the United Kingdom. They can then walk out the door and pass a Colombian restaurant on one side of the street and an Indian hairdresser on the other. They can then board a subway and sit next to someone from Poland. From there, they can dine at an Italian restaurant for lunch, have a Japanese soda and head home to wait for a dinner order of fish and chips delivered from an Irish pub. The world has truly come to that person but do they know it? Moreover, can they use that exposure to their professional advantage?
While the diversity might yield a ‘yes’ response to the first question, the second response is likely not satisfactory. The reason for that is because the notion of access to the world beyond the domestic one has not yet made itself visible in an experiential way. The door may be there but there is no key to provide them the opportunity to walk through it. A passport is that key and should be considered part and parcel of the education system in this country, at least at the post-secondary level.
The primary reason for getting a passport is that it opens a door to a world beyond the one that is immediately known. Furthermore, it is a tool that can be leveraged for the significant enhancement of opportunity the professional level as well as the personal one. These benefits are strikingly similar to the benefits of a university education, which are, of course, to enhance one’s ability to think and solve problems, whilst allowing them to expand their horizons and develop a professional network. Because the world in which we live is increasingly interconnected or, ‘flat’ as Friedman would call it, however, opportunity cannot stop at the borders of one’s country.
Weaving passports into college tuition costs would serve to plant a seed of opportunity at the outset of one’s adult-level academic journey. Furthermore, it would be covered by paid tuition in the form of scholarships, loans, or cash. Like technology or campus gym fees, it would not come be presented as an unexpected additional charge but would instead be an open topic of dialogue between a student and their guardian, mentor, or college counselor. That dialogue would no doubt begin with a review of the fees and the discovery of the passport fee, the response to which might be something like, ‘Oh! they require a passport, I wonder why?’. And, from there, the future of a potential study abroad candidate might ensue. If not, at a minimum, they would have a valid travel document and government ID for ten years. For those that did make their way into study abroad programs, without the passport, the idea that such an option existed might never have made itself known. Or worse, the benefits of studying abroad might never have had the opportunity to come to fruition.
While some colleges in the United States do require all students to have a passport, e.g., the Young Americans College of the Performing Arts which aims to promote goodwill and understanding around the world through music,the question at issue should be discussed at higher levels.
At present, university access is not as equitable is it can or should be in this country. For now, however, those that do access it would be well served to at least be introduced to the idea that they have a chance to earn college credit and gain exposure to a larger world beyond the domestic horizon past which greater opportunity absolutely exists. In the future of such a world, global communication and cooperation will have been enhanced as a result of the relationships developed through interactions between individuals during academic travel. If every action is a political one, what better way to champion geopolitical progress than through individuals on various academic missions designed with no other objective in mind than education? Missions such as these yield increased understanding and respect drawn from lived experiences between people. These are the key pillars in the development of trust between nations.
 Frankovic, K. (2021, April 21). Only one-third of Americans have a valid US passport. Retrieved March 27, 2022, from https://today.yougov.com/topics/travel/articles-reports/2021/04/21/only-one-third-americans-have-valid-us-passport
 Duffin, E. (2021, November 17). International students in the U.S. 2021. Retrieved March 27, 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/237681/international-students-in-the-us/
 NAFSA. (2021). Trends in U.S. study abroad. Retrieved March 27, 2022, from https://www.nafsa.org/policy-and-advocacy/policy-resources/trends-us-study-abroad
 Moody, J. (2019, March 22). 3 benefits of studying abroad | best colleges | US news. Retrieved March 28, 2022, from https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2019-03-22/3-benefits-of-studying-abroad
 Friedman, T. L. (2009). The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the twenty-first century. Bridgewater, NJ: Distributed by Paw Prints/Baker & Taylor.