Abroad policies questioned

A small college in Massachusetts is being sued for the same study abroad policies that are in place at GW.

Wheaton College, a private university in Massachusetts, is at the center of a lawsuit challenging the school’s practice of charging full tuition to students who are studying abroad, even on independent or significantly cheaper programs.

James Brady is attacking the “unfair and deceptive” tuition that his daughter was billed when she spent a semester abroad in South Africa, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, a higher-education trade publication.

Brady said his daughter’s study abroad program cost $17,000 for the semester she spent in South Africa in 2006. But she was still charged Wheaton’s regular tuition at the time – $21,440 per-semester. Brady said he hopes to end these “home school” tuition practices, which several private universities, including GW, follow.

In a statement to the Wheaton community, college president Ronald Crutcher defended the policy, saying it works to “ensure that students receive a high quality educational experience at the overseas institution.”

“We are not planning changes to our policies in light of the lawsuit . we feel our policies are appropriate,” wrote Michael Graca, Wheaton’s assistant vice president of communications, in an e-mail.

Rob Hallworth, GW’s director of study abroad, defended GW’s application of the same policy.

“All GW students who study abroad pay the same tuition as if they were attending classes in D.C.,” Hallworth wrote in an e-mail. “When a student leaves for a semester . the (U)niversity still depends on tuition dollars from that student to support the institution as a whole (for costs including) the admissions department and the career center . the library, technological upgrades, faculty hires.” Hallworth said the benefit of utilizing this policy is that students can take their financial aid packages with them abroad. The study abroad office offers more than $100,000 a year in scholarships Hallworth said.

These scholarships are geared toward students who fall into one of four categories: students who are spending a full year abroad, students who are losing work-study money by not being on campus to participate, students at “exchange partner” institutions and students abroad in “less-commonly visited areas” – anywhere other than western Europe, Australia, or New Zealand.

The Wheaton lawsuit, while unusual in its formal contesting of the policy, nevertheless echoes concerns that have been brought to GW’s Office of Study Abroad before.

“Our office does from time to time receive questions from students and parents on the home tuition policy and we do our best to explain all of the reasons . that this policy helps students at GW go abroad,” Hallworth said.

Junior Dan Burd spent last semester studying abroad with the GW Latin America program in Argentina, a program that directly enrolled him in an Argentine university.

“GW might be the most expensive university in the world, so studying at any other university would probably be a discount . tuition at universities (in Argentina) and anywhere else in the third world are a small fraction of GW’s tuition,” Burd said.

“I sympathize with those that see the discrepancy and . think that GW’s tuition practices are unfair,” Burd said. “Granted, my tuition went towards a number of constructive activities besides just the tuition of my foreign university.”

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