Staff Editorial: Study abroad policy demands reconsiderations

The University’s policy that charges students the same tuition while they are enrolled abroad as when they are on campus has received some well-warranted attention. Furthermore, students have consistently reported trouble with the study abroad process. At a University that takes so much pride in its students abroad and places emphasis on international perspective, it seems counter-intuitive that more is not being done to make international study more affordable and simpler. This page believes that the University needs to reconsider its tuition policy and rethink the process involved.

“Home tuition” became a hot button issue nationally when a father of a student at Wheaton College filed a lawsuit alleging that the policy amounted to an “unfair and deceptive” practice. An increasing number of schools have adopted this practice in recent years, with an estimated 47 percent of universities charging either full tuition, room and board, or charging full tuition and leaving it to the student to pay room and board to the study abroad program, according to the Forum on Education Abroad.

The explanation from Wheaton College’s president for their home tuition policy echoes GW’s own cited by the Office of Study Abroad. In a letter to the editor, administrators from the office state that the University still relies on funds from every student, even those abroad, to “provide the level of education and services the student expects upon return.”

While it is undoubtedly important to keep GW afloat in the absence of hundreds of students who study abroad each semester, it is also important to look at the home tuition policy, especially in light of GW’s drive to increase affordability as a whole. With University President Steven Knapp’s emphasis on reducing the so-called ‘sticker price’ of a GW education, or at least slowing its growth, examining a cost-reduction for those who study abroad should be part of that dialogue.

Furthermore, the recent decline in the power of the dollar brings overseas affordability into sharp focus. Students studying abroad where the dollar is weak against local currency such as the euro or the British Pound are shouldering not only the burden of GW’s tuition and fees, but also increased costs of living where they are studying.

The Office of Study Abroad also states that “there are a number of programs that result in GW’s paying more to the provider than they receive from the student in tuition,” and that the regular GW tuition charged helps to cover any excesses. While some study abroad programs are more expensive that GW’s steep tuition, many find that in order to incur tuition closer to the tuition they will pay GW, they must study abroad in more expensive locales. For many, this leaves them feeling that if they study in developing nations they are losing or wasting their money.

If the University wants to truly promote its worldliness, it must allow students more options of where to study and an easier process for petitioning to other programs.

It seems that many of the operations and expenses of the Office of Study Abroad exist in order to maintain the policy of home tuition. It awards more than $100,000 in scholarships each year, in part to offset “the very issues of differences in cost” between GW’s tuition and that charged by most study abroad programs. In other words, GW offers significant scholarships because home tuition costs more, creating a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle.

It goes without saying that revenues from the home tuition policy go to fund important offices such as the Office of Study Abroad itself. However, having missed a significant opportunity to improve study abroad services by relocating some of their functions to Colonial Central, there has been little indication that the significant differences of cost have contributed directly to streamlining the study abroad process.

Given the complexity of study abroad policies and the vague nature of ‘increasing affordability,’ it may not be feasible to completely abolish the home tuition policy, but the University must recognize study abroad as an area of opportunity where affordability can be explored.

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