Pulse: How We Spend: Trends: What Price Paradise?

Study abroad! See the world! Make your college rich!

When my college-age daughter wanted to spend a semester studying abroad, I was delighted. My worldly little girl! And her school makes it so easy. Like lots of colleges — Haverford, Swarthmore, Penn, Temple, Drexel, Ursinus — it charges the same tuition for study abroad as it does to enroll here in the States. This fee, for her, is currently $19,345 per semester. That my kid was going to Mexico, where the per capita annual income is just over $10,000, wouldn’t bring the price down. Curious, I checked the website of the Mexican school she was headed to. Its tuition is $7,955, or $11,390 less than Marcy’s U.S. college (which I prefer not to name, lest she be stranded in the Yucatan) was charging me. What’s wrong with this picture?

According to study-abroad directors at local colleges, not a damned thing. “We’re not a travel agency,” says Villanova’s Lance Kenney. “From the standpoint of bean-counting, any time a student studies overseas, that’s money that’s not coming to the school.” Lori Bauer of Glenside’s Arcadia University, which sends more of its undergrads abroad than any other school in the nation, points out that charging a single tuition rate simplifies the process of having foreign credits transferred, and lets students carry their financial aid overseas with them. But for $11,390, I’d be willing to go to some transfer trouble. And if I were saving $11,390 a semester, I wouldn’t need financial aid.

Directors also say the single tuition rate means students can make up their minds where to study abroad based on what they want to learn, rather than on price. -Lower-cost programs like Mexico, they add, help subsidize those in pricey ports of call like Tokyo and Milan. But why shouldn’t kids — and parents — be able to take cost into account, especially with -private-college tuitions bumping up against $50,000 a year?

The father of a young woman enrolled at Wheaton College in Massachusetts sued the school in 2008 over its study-abroad fee policy, claiming he was charged $4,439 more than the actual cost of her semester in Africa and calling the practice “predatory.” Meanwhile, a survey that same year by the Institute of International Education and the Forum on Education Abroad found that 83 percent of colleges are “actively trying” to send more students abroad. No wonder. Among those schools: Philadelphia University, whose study-abroad director, Amy Roshannon, says, “It seems like we ought to make money, doesn’t it? We’re actually looking into how we can.”


Around The Web

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • M

    Study abroad hardly makes a college rich.
    When a freshmen class is admitted into an institution, the university itself must consider a number of factors in each students acceptance. High school performance, references, academic interest, and. how many students the university will need to maintain operations for the four years they attend. When Ms. Hingstons daughter was accepted to her school, the university planned its budgetary needs to provide her with 8 semesters of quality academic programming and superior educational facilities. She could be a science major toiling away in a multi-million dollar lab, or a humanities major contemplating theory in a centuries-old classroom; a full time student taking 18 credit hours, or just twelve. Either way, the tuition cost– just as acquiring credit off-campuswill be the same, no matter the discrepancy in individual student expenditure. Like most institutional budgeting, its a formula. Marcy and her family determined that, apparently, a

  • M

    formula of $19,345 per semester was an amount they were willing to invest in the total educational experience.
    When schools charge home tuition for study abroad, it generally means they have vetted certain programs (normally on an approved list) they consider an extension of their own universitys curriculum. In other words, the credit transfer is seamless. This type of approval process is an arduous and time consuming task that requires faculty participation and curricular integration. The reason schools choose to undergo this process, the reason they want more students to go abroad each year, is hardly financial. It is part of a larger academic commitment to produce graduates competitive in an increasingly global field.
    Additionally, when a student chooses to spend a semester abroad it represents a significant financial hit to the university. Students abroad typically dont pay their home university room and board, technology fees, lab fees, parking passes, etc while they are

  • M

    studying off-campus, and yet the institution must continue to operate. The lights must stay on, faculty must be paid. Schools who do not charge home tuition while students are abroad usually charge a hefty study abroad fee (often thousands of dollars) to offset this deficit. And, even then, most lose money on the deal.
    But, most importantly, the home tuition fee structures apply institutional aid and merit scholarships to the student even while they are abroad. While Ms. Hingston barely mentions this, it is in fact a huge advantage of this system and allows students to study abroad who might not ordinarily afford it. Lets be honestmany students attending college on heavy financial aid could never pay even $7955 out of pocket for a semester. Much like the universities themselves, it is those students willing to invest full tuition price who subsidize those that would otherwise have no access to the opportunity. Universities are not la carte; community colleges are.
    As an inte

  • M

    rnational education professional, I was both surprised at the lack of research and offended by the obvious personal agenda in this article. I choose to submit this comment anonymously so as to not subject myself and my institution to the same uninformed finger-pointing that 10 other regional schools bear in these four short paragraphs.