Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2011

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Educational Policy and Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Pascarella, Ernest T

First Committee Member

Paulsen, Michael B

Second Committee Member

Mcnabb, Scott F

Third Committee Member

An, Brian P

Fourth Committee Member

Thomas, Downing A


During the last decade higher education organizations and educational policy makers have substantially increased efforts to incentivize study abroad participation. These efforts are grounded in the longstanding belief that study abroad participation improves intercultural competence - an educational outcome critical in a globalized 21st century economy. Yet decades of evidence that appear to support this claim are repeatedly limited by a series of methodological weaknesses including small homogenous samples, an absence of longitudinal study design, no accounting for potential selection bias, and the lack of controls for potentially confounding demographic and college experience variables. Thus, a major competing explanation for differences found between students who do and do not study abroad continues to be the possibility that these differences existed prior to participation.

The current study sought to determine the effect of study abroad on intercultural competence among 1,593 participants of the 2006 cohort of the Wabash National Study on Liberal Arts Education. The Wabash National Study is a longitudinal study of undergraduates that gathered pre- and post-test measures on numerous educational outcomes, an array of institutional and self-reported pre-college characteristics, and a host of college experiences. The current study employed both propensity score matching and covariate adjustment methods to account for pre-college characteristics, college experiences, the selection effect, and the clustered nature of the data to both cross-validate findings and provide guidance for future research.

Under such rigorous analytic conditions, this study found that study abroad generated a statistically significant positive effect on intercultural competence; an effect that appears to be general rather than conditional. Moreover, both covariate adjustment and propensity score matching methods generated similar results. In examining the effect of study abroad across the three constituent subscales of the overall measure of intercultural competence, this study found that study abroad influences students' diversity of contact but has no statistically significant effect on relativistic appreciation of cultural differences or comfort with diversity. Finally, the results of this study suggest that the relationship between study abroad and intercultural competence is one of selection and accentuation, holding important implications for postsecondary policy makers, higher education institutions, and college impact scholars.


Intercultural Competence, Propensity Score, Study Abroad


ix, 118 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 101-118).


Copyright 2011 Mark Hungerford Salisbury