Study abroad office to cut nonaffiliated programs

Study abroad officials said this week that GW will stop accepting academic credit from programs unaffiliated with the University next fall.

Encouraging students to use GW-affiliated study abroad programs will ensure “academic quality” for students, Study Abroad Director Lynn Leonard said. She added that the office plans to add options to current affiliated programs to compensate for the loss of the non-affiliated programs.

Leonard said students will still be able to petition individually to have specific programs accepted for credit, but noted that there will be strict academic regulations.

Students are currently eligible to receive credit when they study abroad with one of about 60 GW-affiliated programs and more than 5,000 organizations that have no ties to the University.

Leonard said improving the academic quality of study abroad programs fueled the office’s decision to change its system.

“(Student enrollment in non-affiliated programs) has an impact . on the integrity of the GW academic program and the value and reputation of the GW degree when students can sometimes earn a year’s worth of credit from a foreign institution,” Leonard said.

Students wanting to study with non-affiliated programs currently propose their course curriculums to their academic advisers, who decide whether to approve them. The new system will only allow students to study at non-affiliated programs after going through a strict petition process.

“Primarily for destinations not on the list, we would require that the student do quite a bit of research and complete a petition process to help us identify the program’s academic objectives,” she said.

Almost all GW students who study abroad through affiliated programs pay full University tuition, while many non-affiliated programs cost significantly less.

Average prices for non-affiliated programs also vary, from state-run university programs to independent companies. For example, Massachusetts residents attending University of Massachusetts programs abroad pay $6,300 per semester, according to the university’s Web site.

GW currently hosts exchange programs with eight foreign universities, has study centers in Spain, Australia, Brazil, England and France, and has affiliate programs with South India Term Abroad, Institute for the International Education of Students, Council on International Educational Exchange and Syracuse University in London and Florence.

With more than 5,000 potential programs for students to choose from, Leonard said there is no way to monitor all study abroad programs.

She said she asked the University to perform a review of the office’s policies and procedures after she came to GW in November 2000.

“I felt it was a critical time to do a review, given the explosion of study abroad programs,” she said.

Student enrollment has increased about 20 percent every semester for the past two years. Last year 621 students studied in 52 countries. There are more than 200 students abroad this semester and about a third of the junior class usually travels abroad.

“We don’t have the same level of information about the non-affiliated programs,” Leonard said. “Not just program materials, but evaluative data (from previous student testimonies) to determine if the program is overall quality-wise something we would want for a GW student academically, culturally and linguistically.”

She also noted that it is easier to monitor students’ safety in programs affiliated with the University.

The list of affiliated programs currently excludes several countries, including Middle Eastern countries such as Israel and Pakistan.

GW has never had affiliated programs in these countries but always allowed students to pursue study abroad programs there if they sign waivers acknowledging the volatility of the area.

“I think it is our job to stimulate students’ interests in less traditional destinations,” Leonard said. “When we look to expand the list of affiliated programs, we will certainly keep an eye on the geographic destinations we want to see represented.”

Some students said they oppose limiting options.

Freshman Stephen Landman, who intends to major in Middle Eastern Studies, said he came to GW because he “thought the school had unlimited international opportunities.”

“I want to study in Israel and I think it would be wrong for GW to deny me the right that many students have at other universities,” he said.

Senior Stacey Mittin, who studied in London with the non-affiliated American Institute of Foreign Study last semester, said she chose her program because it wasn’t through GW.

“I wanted to go with people from all over the United States and AIFS wasn’t centered with a university, so all different types of people were there,” Mittin said. “It’s good to go on a program (beyond GW affiliates) so you meet people from all over.”

“It would be disappointing to see transfer credit (from non-affiliates) cut,” said senior Jackie Bender, who spent her junior year on a non-affiliated study abroad program with the University of Kansas. “For me, none of the programs offered by GW or any of the affiliated institutions met my personal requirements for study abroad.”

Some other students said they think the new procedure will benefit students as long as options are expanded.

Junior Jeremy Monosov, who plans to study abroad next semester with CIEE in Spain, said he chose an affiliated program because he knew GW trusted the program and because he did not want to spend time researching ones that he might eventually find lacking in quality.

“I don’t know if eliminating non-affiliated programs would hurt the program, as long as the same cities have programs,” said senior Rich Reinerman, who studied at GW’s university in Madrid last semester.

Leonard said she is aware some students may be upset about the changes, but noted that they were efforts to better the quality of student experiences abroad.

“I would say that the limit we want to place is in the students’ best interest,” she said. “Any program that undermines the academic excellence here at GW should be a concern to a student.”

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