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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.”