Each year, hundreds of Gustavus students choose to study abroad. Because of the current economic situation and perhaps due in part to Gustavus’ recent change in the way study abroad trips are funded, students now have to think harder about how much they are able to spend on a study abroad experience.
Junior English Major Matt Heider has had to postpone studying aborad due to financial issues. “In my own personal experience, studying abroad was something I knew I wanted to do, but with the amount of federal aid available it was, frankly, impossible for me to do without having a parent cosign for a loan. In my situation, that is a really risky business,” said Heider.
During the 2004-05 academic year, under Gustavus’ old financial policy and before the recent economic downturn, 397 students studied abroad. This year, only 111 students are expected to study abroad.
“The fall numbers for 2008 are down … due [more] to the economic downturn than to the change in our cost structure,” said Carolyn O’Grady, director of Gustavus’ Center for International and Cultural Education (CICE). “I know from talking to my counterparts at other institutions that they are seeing the same impact of the economic downturn on student choices.”
How much a student pays to study abroad depends on the program. Prior to last fall, it cost students the same amount to study abroad as it cost to attend Gustavus. Gustavus would send the tuition to the other school, and any extra fees (like flight) were the students’ responsibility.
“Sending the entire amount of tuition off campus was financially unviable because it would have contributed to a budget deficit, which would have eroded all study abroad options. Some colleges have a fixed amount of money they are willing to spend on study abroad, and therefore they limit the number of students who can study off campus. Once the budget is spent, no more students can go,” said O’Grady.
“Gustavus has a different philosophy, which is that any student who wants to should be able to study off campus. The solution Gustavus finally came to was to provide a range of program options at a range of prices,” said O’Grady.
Currently, students pay Gustavus tuition and a program fee for the semester and yearlong programs.
Students who choose to study abroad for January Interim Experience pay only a program fee.
“Students do pay more to go abroad, but how much more depends on the program. The program fee can range from $0-10,000 more [than studying at Gustavus],” said O’Grady.
“The college currently contributes more than 50 percent of the tuition towards the study abroad program, and a student’s financial aid goes with them,” said O’Grady.
The Program Fee
The program fee is determined by a few different factors. First, CICE receives the cost from the various program directors. Then, a portion of the student’s tuition is applied to the abroad program, and the amount that is not covered by Gustavus is the program fee, for which students are responsible. This often includes on-site tuition, room and board, international emergency insurance, airfare and personal expenses.
The portion of the money that stays with Gustavus essentially saves a student’s spot on campus—ensuring his or her status as a student and seniority in terms of housing. Also, this money makes sure that the student is registered as a study abroad student with automatic credit review and transfer upon the end of term. Finally, the money covers the services of CICE: student advising, pre-departure and re-entry programming, embassy registration, trouble-shooting and emergency crisis management. Another factor that influences cost is the provider of the program, as different programs are more expensive than others.
Different Places, Different Experiences
Senior Psychology Major Rita Stevermer studied culture, development and social justice in Chile from late February through early June, 2008, through the School of International Training. To cover the cost of the program fee, Stevermer took out extra loans, worked over January Interim Experience and got support from her local Lions Group.
“Gustavus has a goal to graduate students that are culturally competent. One way of accomplishing this is to encourage students to study abroad. In order to do this, more money should be put towards the study abroad program, and it should be a priority,” said Stevermer.
Senior Psychology Major Kaleb Rumicho spent his study abroad experience in Barcelona, Spain. “It’s important to be responsible and know where you stand financially, but thinking about expenses too much can stress you out,” said Rumicho.
Senior Economics Major Stephen Titcombe studied abroad from February to May this past spring in Rome, Italy, through the IES program. “I think it is outrageous that Gustavus would take that much of the tuition and use it how they want. I’m just uncertain if it is really necessary,” said Titcombe.
Titcombe is working two jobs to pay off the loan he used for his abroad experience. “The hardest part was not knowing how far your money would go. A lot of it would go to everyday experiences. Because you can’t really control the economy, you just have to deal with it,” said Titcombe.
Senior Biology Major Brandon Pruess will study abroad during January 2009, traveling to Australia and New Zealand. “ I thought about going abroad [for a semester] in all of my years at GAC, but my parents said it just wouldn’t be feasible. January Interim Experience is my last chance to go somewhere.” said Pruess.
Slightly Cheaper Alternatives
If cost is an issue, there are a few less expensive options. “There are student exchanges as well, where they send students here, and we send students there,” said Study Abroad Adviser Melinda McCannell-Unger.
The schools include Uppsala University (Sweden), Vaxjo University (Sweden), Mora Folkhogskola (Sweden), CAL-Besancon (France), United International College-Zhuhai (China), Kansai Gaidai University (Japan) and Universiti Sains Malaysia (Malaysia).
Another possibility is to go with a group led by a faculty member from Gustavus. “It depends on the location, but it is usually more reasonabl[y] priced,” said O’Grady.
For more information about study abroad, check out the study abroad fair on Wednesday, Nov. 19 in the Heritage room from 4-7 p.m.