University should make study abroad more affordable for all students

Studying abroad is a student’s chance to explore different cultures and travel to foreign places. But at GW, the price tag for that chance is too steep. University faculty and administrators often encourage students to take either a summer, semester or even full year to immerse themselves in a new culture and region – but the cost associated creates a major obstacle for students. Studying abroad is something every student should have the opportunity to experience without worrying about additional loans or sacrificing savings.

The decision to study abroad and where to study internationally should not be based on finances.

If you decide to study abroad at GW, you will pay a fixed rate of tuition to the University, plus an additional tier fee based on where you choose to go overseas. The tier fee is designed to help cover the costs incurred while studying abroad at a partner institution. Each study abroad program falls into one of the seven tiers, and that designation is decided on an individual basis depending on the costs associated with each specific school. Thus, the tiers range in price and inclusion. For example, if you decide to study abroad for one semester in a tier-one location such as University College London, the least expensive tier, then you must pay your fixed rate of tuition plus an additional $825 fee. If you decide to study abroad for one semester in a tier seven zone like the Centre de Danse du Marais in Paris, the most expensive tier, then you have to pay your fixed rate of GW tuition plus an additional $7,725 fee. But don’t be fooled by opting to study abroad in a seemingly cheaper tier area. That additional fee typically only covers the tuition and health insurance of the study abroad program. Students are still expected to find and pay separately for housing, meals, orientation fees and other excursions in the less expensive tiers.

Essentially, when studying abroad at GW, you are paying money to two different institutions but only really benefiting fully from attending one. It’s already difficult for most college students to pay for a semester here without adding the additional cost of study abroad on top of it. This convoluted tier system puts a heavier financial burden than necessary on students and means that many students are unable to study abroad due to financial concerns. As a university deeply committed to the benefits obtained from studying abroad, GW could and should do more to support students who hope to study internationally. The University should do this by simply mandating students to pay the costs of studying abroad at their specific study abroad institution rather than pay GW’s fixed tuition plus a tier fee.

Personally, one of the reasons I chose to attend GW was its diverse range of study abroad options. GW has approved more than 50 program partnerships in almost every region of the world and has sent thousands of students abroad in its history.

Currently, to help students pay for the additional costs associated with studying abroad, GW has set up a portal with a number of external scholarships and grants. There are additional study abroad scholarships through the University, but the amounts only range from $1,000 to $3,000. On top of that, the application process can be quite challenging for students and more importantly, does not actually guarantee any need- or merit-based aid. This forces students who don’t receive scholarships, grants or have family members willing to pay for their study abroad experience to take out funds from savings or apply for high-interest loans to study abroad.

Forcing students to pay for both a tier fee and their fixed rate of tuition causes students to choose between financial security and a life-changing educational experience.

Some schools, like Soka University of America in California, recognize the financial pressures of studying abroad and allow students to simply pay their respective universities’ fixed cost of attendance with no additional costs. This causes the university to supplement the rest of the trips’ cost including additional housing fees, related program fees, flights and excursions. However, Soka is substantially smaller than GW with a lower sticker price tuition, so it would be more of a long-term goal for GW to implement a similar policy. Many of our peer schools also have a similar tier fee system, like Georgetown University, American University and Duke University. But that doesn’t mean GW can’t be a leader in lowering the study abroad cost burden on students. The University should have students simply pay for their study abroad programs’ associated costs, such as tuition and housing, rather than pay GW tuition plus a tier fee. This should be an intermediate step toward the aforementioned long-term goal of students only paying their GW cost of attendance while studying abroad. Schools like Boston University and Northwestern University already use this system.

The decision to study abroad and where to study internationally should not be based on finances or a college student’s ability to pay. Looking forward past my first year, I hope to study abroad in Europe at some point during my sophomore or junior year. But I don’t want my study abroad experience to be dominated by stress over getting one of the limited study abroad scholarships for my travels, or anxiety over taking out loans to pay for my time abroad.

Forcing students to pay for both a tier fee and their fixed rate of tuition with only limited financial aid opportunities causes students to choose between financial security and a life-changing educational experience. Many students – including myself – decided to attend GW based on its many international study partnerships, and the University needs to drastically improve how it helps students fund study abroad.

Colette Bruder, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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