Studying abroad should be cheaper
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.
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 email@example.com.