The cost of going abroad

Study abroad programs see increased enrollment during J-Term, Summer periods

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Participation in study abroad programs by University students remains far higher for January term and summer programs than semester or year-long programs.

More than half of all students who studied abroad in the 2012-13 school year participated in summer programs, according to data from the International Studies Office.

According to the Institute for International Education’s annual Open Doors report, the University often ranks as a leading institution for short-term study abroad. Participation rates in semester- and year-long programs, however, lag behind.

Participation and interest for programs of all kinds is increasing, however, Education Abroad Advisor Christine Parcells said.

“Over the three-plus years I’ve worked here, I have seen a great increase in the visibility and recognition in study abroad as an important part of students’ education and time at U.Va.,” she said. “ISO is invited to more COLA classes and more first-, second-, and third-year council events each year.”

A “College” experience:

Though students in the College typically have many options to study abroad, regardless of their major, students in other schools at the University often do not feel the same way.

Engineers, for example, are often perceived as having little leeway to study abroad.

This perception is unwarranted, however, Engineering Prof. Dana Elzey said.

“[Engineering] students have dozens of partner universities globally to choose from when thinking of spending a semester abroad,” he said. “This spring, 18 [Engineering] students will be spending the semester studying abroad. This is about 15 percent of the total number of students we send abroad each year.”

The Engineering School’s efforts to increase the number of students studying abroad in recent years has been very successful, Elzey said — increasing the number of graduating engineers with study abroad experience from 2-3 percent to 26 percent.

“We are well above average among all engineering schools in the U.S. in terms of the numbers of students engaging in study abroad, which is below four percent,” Elzey said.

This increase was achieved primarily by focusing on short-term summer and January programs, but now that studying abroad is increasingly popular, Elzey said they are able to draw their attention back toward semester-long programs.

Part of this effort is known as Pathways, an initiative started by Parcells and Elzey which aims to establish at least one semester-long program for each engineering degree program.

“Financial limitations are probably the greatest barrier now,” Elzey said.

A question of finance:

Cost may indeed be one of the strongest deterrents to increasing student participation in study abroad programs. At a university where out-of-state tuition already ranks among the highest in the nation for public institutions, the additional financial burden of studying abroad may be too much for some students.

“Cost is the only thing that would stop me from participating in study abroad,” first-year College student Caroline Bauserman said.

But for some students, particularly those paying out-of-state tuition, studying abroad for a semester or for the year can actually be in some ways cheaper than studying at the University, depending on the program. Conversely, in-state students will often face much higher program costs than they pay at the University.

Scott Miller, interim director at Student Financial Services, has worked with the International Studies Office to reduce the financial burden to study abroad.

“University students on need-based aid can apply that aid to study abroad, while loans are available to other students at a low interest rate of 3.86 percent,” Miller said. “These loans can be taken out in the amount of $7,500 per semester, but we allow students to take the full loan for one semester of study abroad rather than spread it out over the whole year.”

As for January term financial aid, Student Financial Services only awarded need-based aid in 2013, totaling $140,000 spread among 50 students.

Aid for summer programs is trickier, as most of the available aid for that academic year is used up in fall, spring and January.

“Summer financial aid is only in the form of loans,” Parcells said. “The ISO does offer numerous scholarships, as do a number of other U.Va. offices and departments. Students can also apply for national funding sources.”

Out-of-state students ultimately studied abroad at a higher rate than in-state students: 40.95 percent of study abroad students in 2012-13 were from outside Virginia, while just 31.2 percent of undergraduate students overall hail from outside Virginia.

There’s no place like home:

Beyond financial considerations, some students believe study abroad will harm their chances of graduating on-time. “My biggest worry with study abroad is not being able to complete my classes on time,” first-year College student Emory Yearwood said.

In an effort to combat this concern, the ISO encourages students to pre-approve courses for transfer credit before studying abroad, Parcells said.

For direct credit options during the 2012-13 school year, the University offered 11 during the January term, 25 during the summer, two embedded spring programs and four semester-long programs, including Semester at Sea.

There are also about 280 outside programs which the University has approved, Parcells said.

But there may be less tangible concerns keeping students in Charlottesville.

“I had planned on doing study abroad for a long time, but was initially told I couldn’t study abroad and be a resident advisor,” second-year College student Vanessa Ehrenpreis said. “This turned out not to be true, but you do miss out on certain opportunities and clubs when abroad.”

The thought of missing a football season, Foxfield or other classic University cultural events may be too much to seriously entertain the thought of semester-long programs. There may then always be students like fourth-year Engineering student Adam Wise, who opted for a summer and January study abroad experiences.

“I have too much fun at U.Va. during the year,” Wise said. “I didn’t want to miss any of that.”

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