Monday, March 30, 2009

Up-and-Down Economic Impact

The Institute for International Education and NAFSA are out with a new study on the impact of the recession on study-abroad programs

Most of what's been discussed here and in other forums has been based on anecdotal evidence, but the new IIE/NAFSA study by Chris Musick of the University of Mary Washington in Virginia shows a nearly 50-50 split among institutions as to whether enrollments are up or down for Summer 2009.

The study is based on responses via Survey Monkey from 162 colleges, universities and providers. Of those participating, 21 percent say their summer applications are up from a year ago, while a 27 percent say they’re at about the same place as in 2008.

Another 18 percent say they’re experiencing a slight decline from last year, but 34 percent say their numbers are down by 10 percent or more.

When it comes to Fall 2009 applications, the news is somewhat brighter: About 65 percent of respondents say they are seeing numbers hold steady or increase.

Musick’s study asked respondents to talk about factors that are impacting their programs. One answered:
We have extended deadlines and lowered prices where we could, but have not seen much of an effect. We just had to cancel all three spring quarter-abroad programs and two of our three faculty-led short-term trips scheduled for the March break due to insufficient enrollments. This was done in spite of extensions to deadlines, the offer of additional scholarship funds, and in one case, in spite of revisions to a short-term faculty-led program to bring the cost down by over $1,000. 

The economy is hurting us in two ways. First, the generally poor economic outlook has caused many families to say, “We’re only going to spend money on what we have to and study abroad is not a ‘have to.’” Perhaps more importantly for my programs, however, is the fact that students just can’t get the student loans like they used to be able to get. Not only can’t they get new loans for study abroad, but they also can’t increase the loans they may currently have to cover my study abroad programs. My students rely heavily on being able to get these loans in order to participate in study abroad so this is really hurting us.
Participants in the study also offered ideas on how to stimulate demand for abroad programs. One particularly aggressive promoter of study abroad noted:
We have advertized (sic) more, done more personal follow up, spent time with students to see if there was any way we could make this happen financially for them if they were struggling. We are also thinking about offering a few more scholarships — but these funds are limited. We have also worked with our financial aid office to see if there is any possible way to get some of the left over aid applied to summer for these students. Fall ’09 and Spring ’10 look about the same for us. It is really this summer we are struggling with. We work mostly with providers but we do have 7 summer programs we run on our own and we will have to cancel 1 of them and the others are going with enrollments that are about 20% less.

The fully NAFSA study by Musick is available here (registration required).

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