Alex Shoucair: Stop the study abroad scam

I could write an editorial every week for a year focusing on GW’s student financial failings without ever addressing them all. But for those that study abroad, the unfairness of the school’s study abroad tuition policies are particularly egregious. For years, students have bemoaned the fundamental injustice of GW’s study abroad tuition policies, to no avail. Why should people pay a GW tuition for a non-GW school? It’s a simple question, for which the university has never given a satisfactory answer.

Each year, too many students are robbed by our school’s study abroad tuition rates. Rather than being charged what their program actually costs, students end up having to pay GW tuition – despite the fact that (in most cases) they are not taught by GW professors, and grades earned abroad cannot appear on their transcripts. Last week’s announced changes to the University’s study abroad tuition regulations, though, marked a rare occasion in which the University at least somewhat acknowledged the pure insanity of its financial policies. Now, instead of charging students thousands more for housing abroad than the housing actually costs, the school will charge a few hundred less in some cases. This is sort of like when George Bush fired Donald Rumsfeld after six years on the job – it was a good step, but didn’t do much to solve the original screw-up.

In my own case, I studied abroad in Beijing. The entire cost of my program (tuition, housing, books, and other fees) came out to around $13,000. Yet, inexplicably, I was charged with the costs of an average GW semester – around $27,000. That is more than double what I would have paid had I enrolled with my study abroad program directly. Other non-GW students in my Beijing program were shocked to find out I had to pay my full tuition from back home. For some of them, studying abroad had the added bonus of actually saving them some money. Naturally, I got the short end of the stick: GW, 14,000. Me, zero.

Somehow, the school has managed to perpetuate this scheme nearly unchallenged. Students are left with two unattractive alternatives to the current GW system: take a semester of leave and receive no actual credit from their abroad program, or leave the University altogether to enroll directly with their abroad program, potentially sacrificing all GW scholarships and being forced to re-apply to GW. Clearly, most students choose stick with GW because it is the least-worst option available to the student body.

Every year, as each new class of travelers comes to grips with GW’s policy, a limited amount of hell-raising occurs. Somehow, though, nothing has ever changed. It appears that this time around, the school is attempting to placate its critics by acknowledging (quite belatedly) that we are right: we’re getting bilked for studying abroad, a decision the school tries to encourage. The message that administrators need to hear is that this change is not enough. Not even close. A few hundred more dollars for a few individuals in no way rectifies the wrong committed by the University against countless students. These new modifications, a positive step though they may be, should not and will not satisfy a student body that has grown excessively cynical about the intentions of their own school. The message we have for the powers-that-be is simple: if you thought this minor change would quell the justifiable anger over the pillaging of our finances during dire economic times, try again.

The writer, a senior majoring in Asian studies, is a Hatchet columnist.

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