Studying abroad should be cheaper

| Staff Columnist

Next fall I will be traveling to New Zealand to study at the University of Auckland for a semester. It is hard to express how excited I am to have the opportunity to live and study in a foreign land. Even though I am months away from departure, I am confident that living in another country will be an educational and life-changing experience. I am also extremely fortunate that my parents are able to help me pay my tuition, pay for my (unbelievably expensive) plane ticket to New Zealand and help me cover some of my living costs while abroad. During the process of applying and preparing to go abroad, however, I discovered an unnerving fact about Wash. U.’s financing of study abroad.

On the surface, the finances seem incredibly simple, and even like a good deal. I just pay Wash. U.’s tuition, and I can participate in any of the programs offered by the study abroad office all over the globe. Of course this does not include living expenses or a plane ticket, but neither does normal tuition. My program is run through an institute, so presumably Wash. U. simply takes my tuition ($18,900) for the semester and pays the institute to cover my study abroad tuition. This seemed easy enough, and my parents were actually happy that such a transaction could be so simple. The shock came when I stumbled upon the actual cost of my study abroad program on the institute’s website. Even through the institute where I am studying, which provides things like health insurance, support staff and advising, the tuition next fall would have been only $12,990. If I had simply applied directly to the institute, I could have taken the exact same classes I will take next fall, study with exactly the same fellow students and been nearly $6,000 richer. It seems Wash. U. is pocketing a sizeable chunk of change thanks to my desire to study in New Zealand.

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Stunned, I did some more research. Perhaps the University of Auckland simply had very low fees. Perhaps some programs are a relative bargain at Wash. U.’s tuition rate. Not surprisingly, it isn’t easy to determine the actual costs of many of the programs Wash. U. offers its students. I only know my program’s true cost because the institute where I am studying is a nonprofit that accepts students from many universities and maintains a refreshingly transparent website. The study abroad office’s website is not particularly forthcoming about the finances of its programs. This leads me to believe that students are often over-charged. Some examples of the programs I could find information on include the following: Tuition for a semester at the University of Queensland in Australia costs $9,132 for international students, tuition for the SIT program in Chile costs $14,252, and tuition at King’s College in London costs $10,041 for study abroad students.

To be fair to Wash. U., there are no policies prohibiting students from simply taking a semester off from school and applying to study abroad on their own (and paying the consequently lower tuition). But doing so is not without its hardships. The process of applying can be more difficult without the backing of a university, and transferring credit to Wash. U. can be an arduous task. For me personally, and likely for many other students, this was not an option as one of my scholarships requires that I maintain full-time student status in Missouri. While the University is not maintaining a monopoly on the chance to study abroad, the road to studying abroad on one’s own is not an easy one.

The costs of education at our university are very high, and the costs in the U.S. are high in general. Why should Wash. U. students not be able to take advantage of the comparatively cheaper cost of education in other countries? Study abroad is a valuable experience, but one that can be expensive. Plane tickets and foreign accommodations are not cheap. Perhaps many more students would take the plunge and apply to study abroad if they knew it might actually reduce their tuition bill for that semester.

While I cannot pretend to understand the intricate details of the finances at Wash. U., common sense dictates that something is wrong with the University making a $6,000 profit off my study abroad semester. If study abroad is something that the University sees as educationally valuable, then it should at the very least be more transparent about the finances, and hopefully take steps to close this gap and make studying abroad as financially appealing as possible.

Andrew is a sophomore in Engineering, he can be reached at ayg1@cec.wustl.edu.

  • Sally Kingston Smith

    Congratulations on exploring a very relevant topic for all college students. You did a good job finding more information than is transparent on your home campus website, but there is still other layers of info. that you seem not to have found. You could have attended the University of Auckland even cheaper than going through the “Institute”.

    The actual tuition for a study abroad student at the University of Auckland is $8,074.46 US dollars. http://www.auckland.ac.nz/uoa/home/for/international-students/is-tuition-fees-and-costs/is-study-abroad-fees.
    Thus, the “Institute” iesabroad is also making a profit on the tuition they are charging you at $12,990. Of course IESAbroad does offer you pre-departure and on-site student support services which are paid for out of those profits. And this is common practice among program providers that they get a discounted tuition rate from the university abroad, and make up the cost of providing student support services through charging students fees more than the host institution’s tuition rate. The choice is whether students want/NEED those additional support services to be success in another country, or is the student independent enough to make all arrangements by themselves. However, the “home-tuition” policy is also common to many private universities and the justification goes… that no student actually pays the “real” cost of their personal education, but the whole financial system of higher education is based on subsidies and cost sharing. The cost of education for a chemistry major (lab equipment, facilities, supplies and faculty) is much more than that of a philosophy major. Yet, both are paying the same and the school simply balances the costs out. Likewise, some students are on scholarships that are simply tuition discounts, while other students are paying full price. It just all goes into a pot and balances out. Thus, your study abroad office handles payments in a similar way. Some students go on less expensive programs and some go on more expensive programs. Some students get scholarships and some students pay full price.

  • http://www.abroadscout.com Wendy Williamson

    I’ve seen a lot of blog posts lately on this topic, so you’re not alone. What you describe falls into the SEEMSEASY COLLEGE example that I passionately wrote about in my book and blog: http://www.abroadscout.com/how-to-choose-a-college You’re right to question what appears to be a huge profit, but first, check into the actual cost for the university. Are they sending a faculty along? Have they hired a site director for the program? I recommend you find out where that extra $6,000 per student is going first. If you find out that it’s being pocketed, then continue to spread the word and hope for change.
    I’m the Director of Study Abroad at Eastern Illinois University, for example, and our programs are all run at cost. Sometimes we pad a little more into the budget to allow for a faculty director to go along, but we’re not making any money off the program fee. Instead, we charge a $300 study abroad fee which pays the wages for our office staff.