With a few weeks left in her term as Student Association president, Nicole Capp has recently tackled an issue that will inevitably roll over into the next academic year – study abroad reform. Capp should be commended for her efforts, but first the administration must acknowledge that the current study abroad system warrants reconsideration. SA President-elect Vishal Aswani’s incoming administration holds the responsibility for continuing dialogue with administrators this summer.
During the upcoming summer months, the SA has a distinct opportunity to engage the administration during a relative lull in campus affairs. Although study abroad reform may not have been in Aswani’s initial campaign platform, it is imperative that he recognize the significance of this student issue and adopt it into his work.
We have repeatedly seen complaints about the level of customer service and efficiency within the study abroad office. In order to improve the study abroad process, from selecting a program to transferring credits back to GW, the office must consider tangible and realistic changes.
The foundation of these changes should begin with greater communication. Understaffed, the busy office has a difficult time addressing students’ concerns in a timely fashion. The handful of advisers available to assist students is inadequate in proportion with the increased level of interest in overseas programs.
Study abroad advisers serve a dual purpose, but their advising duties have been overcome by clerical responsibilities. To avoid completely overhauling the current system, there are several ways to alleviate the small staff’s immense workload.
The initial search for an appropriate program is a crucial time in the advising process. Unfortunately, the understaffed office cannot provide the comprehensive one-on-one advising students need at this step in the process. The counselor role can effectively be supplemented with increased peer advising by better utilizing study abroad alumni. This could be easily accomplished with an online list containing contact information for alums interested in assisting other students.
One of the central complaints regarding study abroad focuses on the mass of paperwork involved. Students are unsure when application items are received or if they are received at all. This is particularly troublesome when the process involves transferring credit from international institutions.
Clerical duties can be lightened by providing an online method for students to check the status of their paperwork. It is baffling that such a system is not already in place, as other GW offices with higher volumes have effectively streamlined their online processes.
But even with such measures, the office needs more professional staff. If the University continues to charge home tuition for less-expensive abroad programs, a greater portion of these additional funds should supplement the study abroad office.
With a heftier budget and successful adoption of such proposals, the office should have no excuse for poor service to its student customers. This project is much too large for Capp to bring change in the last few weeks of her term. Instead, Aswani must take this opportunity to give this issue a prime spot on his administration’s agenda.