Sean Redding: Affording GW, even overseas

As University President Steven Knapp and his administration continue to search for ways to increase GW’s affordability, they cannot ignore our study abroad policies.

Of course, this is not the first time this has been suggested, but this is the first year in many that the GW administration is actually prioritizing affordability (or at least seems to be), and the cost of study abroad could be an easy way to ease the financial burden placed on many GW students.

Next year many of these students, including me, will be leaving the familiarity of Foggy Bottom to study in a foreign country. GW students will go all over the globe, from Cape Town, South Africa to Cairo to London to Sydney. Director of Study Abroad Rob Hallworth told The Hatchet last year that, in the spring of 2007, 690 students were studying abroad. Four-hundred students had studied abroad in that fall. Clearly, a large number of students are taking advantage of study abroad opportunities, a testament to the Office of Study Abroad as well as the student body.

I hope to study in Uganda through the SIT program in Kampala. And I will not be alone in studying through a non-GW affiliated program; programs like SIT and CIEE offer study abroad opportunities all over the world that many GW students utilize.

The problem with this, as a lawsuit making headlines at Wheaton College is highlighting, is that these programs are generally much cheaper than GW tuition (what isn’t?). Yet, as study abroad veterans will tell you, students are still required to pay GW tuition for their cheaper program, a practice common at many universities.

For instance, the tuition for the Development Studies program I’m looking at in Uganda is $13,367 plus a $1,869 room and board fee. Yet I’ll be charged $18,200 for GW tuition and fees, $4,710 for housing, and, as if the extra thousands of dollars are not enough, a $300 study abroad fee, just to add icing to the cake.

But GW is not alone in doing this; universities across the country overcharge students for studying abroad. In fact, at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, the policy is being put to the test.

James Brady, a father of a recent Wheaton graduate, is suing the college for overcharging him for his daughter’s study abroad program in South Africa. Pending Brady’s success, similar suits may begin to sweep the country, and GW would be wise to begin to take steps to battle this. Whether or not the lawsuit is successful, it is time for GW to reevaluate its own policies.

Campus headlines for this past month have been filled with talk of GW’s high tuition. Knapp is in the process of taking steps to increase affordability, all the while defending GW’s tuition because of the high cost of operation. It is clear now that tuition won’t be lowered any time soon, but changing the study abroad policy could be one way to showcase this plan for affordability in an area where it makes the most sense.

It’s possible that I’m missing something here; perhaps the cost of paying study abroad advisors or overseeing program implementation makes the overcharge completely necessary. If that is the case, then the GW administration owes it to its students to come clean about study abroad costs – why does GW need to overcharge and where exactly is the excess money going?

A reduction in study abroad costs won’t be a huge step in increasing affordability, but it is something that could benefit a large number of GW students. Either way, the Office of Study Abroad needs to increase its transparency in regards to the excess charges.

The writer, a sophomore majoring in history and political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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