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More American college students are studying abroad than ever before, but the hordes of undergrads running around Europe are a poor reflection of the increasingly diverse student body back home.

More than three-quarters of those who studied abroad during the 2012-13 school year were white, according to a new report from the Institute for International Education in partnership with the State Department. Black and Latino students combined to make up less than 15 percent, yet they make up double that, approximately 30 percent, of all American college students.

Cost is likely a significant barrier. While the report doesn’t include data on family income, minority students are disproportionately likely to come from low-income families.

Graphic by Gabriella Penuela/Fusion. Source: Institute of International Education.

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Some countries, including Brazil, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, have robust government efforts to fund study abroad opportunities for their students. The United States has a program called the Gilman Scholarship to help financially needy students, but it offers only $5,000 for those seeking overseas college credit, with an additional $3,000 for students studying languages like Arabic and Chinese. The program has helped about 17,000 students study abroad, a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have gone abroad since the scholarship was established in 2000.

Photo courtesy of Kristina Franco

Kristina Franco, a 26-year-old California native of Mexican heritage, decided to forego study abroad during her undergraduate career. But getting her master’s degree in Mexico was an affordable way to spend time abroad.

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"I'm paying [about a third] of what the same degree would cost me in America," she said in a Facebook message, "because cost of living is way lower here."

She is working toward a degree in international counseling psychology through Alliant International in Mexico City. The satellite campus meets U.S. accreditation standards, so Franco will qualify for licenses in California, but the cost of living in Mexico is significantly lower. She would like to work with minority populations in California and the program is also helping her become fluent in Spanish and Mexican culture, she said.

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Photo courtesy of Kristina Franco

David Ruiz, 26, who earned an architecture degree and a minor in English in four years from the University of California at Berkeley, opted not to study abroad. The diversity of his fellow students who did study abroad, he said, was far lower than in his program overall.

Ruiz's own decision was less cost-related and more a decision to remain at a university consistently ranked among the best in the world.

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"Why would I be leaving this school when I know that I'm not going to be getting as good an education?" he said during a phone interview.

Graduating in four years was critical to Ruiz, now a reporter for San Francisco-based legal affairs newspaper The Recorder, and studying abroad likely would have meant giving up the minor that was "so important" him.

Increasing the diversity of those who study abroad is a priority, government officials say, but there is still work to do. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan during a call with reporters urged private businesses to fund foreign exchange opportunities as well, pointing out that the experience enhances economic cooperation and builds cultural understanding, boons in a global economy.

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"International education is for everyone," she said.

There are some notes of progress. More people, and more minorities, are studying abroad, and the percentage of people who study in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America has also risen in the last decade. That's welcome news for the government, which sees study abroad as a critical means of advancing relationships with foreign countries in these increasingly important regions. Another bright spot is that the number of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students going abroad has also risen significantly, as universities and businesses stress the borderlessness of the tech world.

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Graphic by Gabriella Penuela/Fusion. Source: Institute of International Education.

While the U.S. works to encourages more of its own students to venture abroad, it has also opened its doors to an increasing number of foreign students. Over the last 14 years, the number of foreign students who study in the U.S. has increased more than 70 percent. The vast majority come from China, and many pursue full degrees in the U.S. as opposed to shorter exchange programs. The Obama administration recently moved to extend Chinese student and exchange visas to five years from just one.

Last year more than 886,000 foreign students, who made up 4.2 percent of all enrolled students, contributed $27 billion to the economy, up $3 billion from the 2012-2013 year, estimates Ryan, the State Department official.

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While they enrich U.S. classrooms, Ryan said, the students also return to their home countries with a taste of American college life, which she said favors critical thinking and "uniquely American" volunteerism.

The ultimate goal is to foster more global collaboration and cooperation and to begin that process as early as possible.

The foreign students here today, Peggy Blumenthal, senior counselor to the president of IIE, noted, are "going to be the leaders in their own countries" tomorrow, so foreign exchange programs "can set the stage for productive collaboration and goodwill" toward the U.S. down the line.

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Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.