Learning how to learn without an academic institution : a case study of the potentials and pitfalls for an independent experiential off-campus program

Degree Name

MA in International Education

First Advisor

Patricia Crutchfield


This paper is a case study of the BorderLinks Semester on the Border (SOTB) program, an experiential off-campus study program in Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A., and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Instead of a specific academic affiliate able to grant all participants' academic credit through its registrar, the program depends on individual sending institutions to grant their own credit for their students. My research will explore the difference between programs with this arrangement and those with one specific academic affiliate which grants participant credit. In order to be attractive to students and international education administrators, experiential off-campus programs must have a credit transfer process that is simple and guaranteed. For a program without one specific academic affiliate, either in the U.S. or abroad, this process can be complicated. The purpose of this case study was to evaluate the long-term viability of an experiential off-campus program without partnership with one specific academic institution. I conducted interviews in order to collect information about the history and mission of the SOTB program. I surveyed former participants about their experience with the SOTB program and surveyed the administrators at their undergraduate institutions about granting credit for the SOTB program. As a basis of comparison, I interviewed representatives from three other off-campus study providers with similarities to BorderLinks. I found that although the process of granting credit for experiential learning in the BorderLinks program is not simple, it caters well to the needs of the students and schools involved. At present, the program has been able to stay true to its mission and has consistently offered a uniquely transformative learning experience for its students. Since the program is less than five years old and still involves an average of less than ten students per semester, the future may bring changes in academic affiliation as the program continues to grow.

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