Students studying abroad should not pay Wash. U. tuition

Anjali Vishwanath | Staff Writer

Study abroad: Whether you do it to immerse yourself in a culture different than yours, sharpen your foreign language skills, fulfill a requirement for your major or simply to experience the world, it’s an opportunity to take a break from Washington University. But while students who study abroad are physically (and often emotionally) detached from campus, they are still burdened by the University’s high financial demands.

Being enrolled at Wash. U. is already a financial challenge for most. With tuition at a semester rate of $26,200—not including housing, dining, health insurance and other fees—most students need financial assistance in one form or another throughout their undergraduate career. And if a student chooses to study abroad (a decision I encourage everyone to make if they are in the academic standing to do so), they still have to pay the same tuition.

This would make sense if the cost of study abroad programs were comparable to Wash. U.’s tuition. But, for the most part, study abroad tuition is much less than Wash. U.’s.

The tuition of popular study abroad programs such as the Danish Institute for Study Abroad, School for International Training and Middlebury College programs ranges from $14,500 to $20,000, with more expensive rates coming from programs located in countries with high costs of living, such as Denmark or Switzerland.

I chose to study abroad in Amman, Jordan, and my program cost $16,850. Although housing was included in that cost, I still had to pay an extra $2,520 to the University, because Wash. U.’s tuition does not include room and board. So, in total, I paid $28,720 to Wash. U., almost $12,000 more than what my program asked for.

A survey conducted by the Forum on Education Abroad earlier this year concluded that 45 percent of universities (out of a sample size of around 300 schools) do not require students to pay tuition directly to their home institution. Harvard University, Northwestern University, Yale University, Cornell University, Duke University, Princeton University, Williams College, Amherst College, Bowdoin College, Tufts University, the University of Virginia and Carleton College are among the 45 percent that allow students to pay the abroad program’s fees.

So why does Wash. U. charge “home school” tuition? According to Director of Overseas Programs Amy Suelzer, there are essentially three reasons:

Financial Aid

The tuition policy ensures that financial aid and scholarships awarded to students are applied to study abroad. This rationale would be valid if other universities had not figured out how to continue assisting students financially during their time abroad. But that’s not the case.

Northwestern’s website says “your study abroad financial aid will be based on the cost of the program you attend, including the exchange rate and a reasonable cost of living for the location in which you will be studying.”

At Cornell, a student’s financial aid is also applied to the study abroad tuition, which is “adjusted in line with the higher or lower costs of the program.”

And all the other universities that allow students to pay study abroad program tuition have a policy in place to ensure that students’ financial aid packages are applied to study abroad tuition.

Resources

Suelzer says that “although students abroad are not using University resources in the same way as those who are on campus, there is a significant institutional investment required to support students before, during and after their experience abroad.”

This is true—there are a good number of resources in place to ensure that students who study abroad are supported. But I don’t think the resources provided cost the school an amount equivalent to the tuition surplus that students are paying. Contrastingly, other schools that allow students to pay tuition directly to their study abroad program charge a “study abroad fee” to cover the cost of these resources.

Removing Cost as a Barrier

The Office of Overseas Programs website claims that “standardizing program tuition minimizes financial incentives” to choose a program based on cost.

We can’t pretend that money won’t be a factor in our decisions for the rest of our lives. For most, it has affected the way we were raised, the choices we’ve made and it constituted a major factor in coming to Wash. U., where tuition seems incomprehensibly high.

Regardless, students will choose a study abroad program based on cost. The $26,200 that students pay to the University does not include housing or cost of living. Therefore, students might be deterred from studying in cities where they will have to pay more for room and board and dining.

At Cornell, they understand this. In 2011, the study abroad director at Cornell said allowing students to pay tuition to their abroad program “maximizes student choice,” and some students chose to study “in an inexpensive place because they wanted to save money.”

I feel cheated by Wash. U. I could have saved over $10,000 if the tuition policy were not in place. And many of my friends have expressed this same frustration.

The opportunity to study abroad is a privilege, one that has historically only been available to upper-middle class students. Currently, approximately 33 percent of students study abroad during their time at the Wash. U. If students were offered the opportunity to spend a semester or summer outside the U.S. at a cost lower than Wash. U.’s, and if financial assistance were offered to them, I am almost positive that more students would study abroad.

Wash. U. encourages students to study abroad, but does not match that enthusiasm with appropriate financial policies. If the University wants to live up to its word of ensuring that students have a well-rounded college experience and compete with other peer institutions, Wash. U. should not force students to pay University tuition while studying abroad.