Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Students Chipping In For Students

Colleges and universities use mandatory student fees to pay for newspapers, yearbooks, health clubs, transportation systems, campus entertainment, computers, networks and much, much more.

So why not help finance study abroad programs in the same way? That's the question a number of institutions are answering by adding small fees onto the bills that students pay each semester. 

The fees range from as little as $1 per semester to $14 and help finance faculty development of international programs and scholarships for students to study abroad. They address the leading concern of study-abroad professionals — that there's simply not enough money available for developing adequate study-abroad programs and for helping increasingly financially strapped students to take advantage of the opportunities that exist.

Students at Illinois last year voted to institute a $5 fee that all students must pay to finance study-abroad programs. The fee in its first year generated $150,000 per year that helped 177 students take part in winter-break and spring-term programs.

Other institutions that have similar fees are Kennesaw State in Georgia, Georgia State and Texas at Austin.

The monies raised by the fees aren't designed to pay entirely for students who wish to go abroad. Farrah Bernardino, director of study abroad programs at Georgia State, told Inside Higher Education:
I wish we had more money to give them, but the first question that they ask, they come here and say, “I know I want to go abroad. Now how do I pay for it?” To be able to tell them that our institution has a scholarship just for study abroad, at least it’s a starting point for them to be able to pay for it. It can’t cover the cost of the program, but we start with this scholarship.
At Texas, the scholarships averaged $1,300 per student last year — about enough to pay for round-trip airfare to most study-abroad destinations.

What’s not clear is whether the existence of fees actually lead more students to study abroad. While hundreds of students benefit from scholarship support, it wouldn't be unusual for hundreds of students to study abroad anyway.

It could be that students, knowing that they’re helping pay for study abroad whether they wish to or not, might be more inclined to consider taking part in such programs.

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