Colleges tweak study-abroad programs: As student participation rises, schools make changes to offset loss of tuition

The University of Indianapolis used to forfeit thousands of dollars in tuition from students studying abroad in the shadows of the Acropolis in ancient Greece.

That is no longer an issue, however, because U of I assumed full ownership of its branch campus in Athens two years ago from separate management that previously received tuition from students spending a semester there.

“That’s one way we can cut back on the loss, because they’re still enrolled with us,” said Mimi Chase, director of U of I’s International Division. “We can give them a study-abroad experience without losing the funding.”

The financial hit from the dozen or so students studying abroad annually was not so severe that it alone swayed the university to assume control of the branch, Chase said. But, for many small, private institutions across the country, the fiscal burden of supporting growing overseas programs is prompting them to scale back and limit the damages.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that several small colleges are requiring students to pay full tuition even if the programs cost less, setting caps on the amount of financial aid sent abroad, and limiting how many students can participate.

In the 2003-2004 school year, 7,208 students from Indiana universities went on study-abroad programs, according to the most recent statistics available from the Institute of International Education in Washington, D.C. The amount represents a 10-percent increase from the previous school year and mirrors the growth occurring nationally.

Nearly 200,000 students nationwide studied abroad during the 2003-2004 school year, a whopping 151-percent increase from 10 years ago.

“American college students are very likely when they finish to go to a company or organization that is international or global in scope,” IIE President Allan Goodman said. “And it shouldn’t be the first time you have contact with people from other cultures.”

To be sure, Butler University is building on its program, launched in 1988 with just a handful of students. It since has grown to include more than 200 who annually travel abroad to 12 universities either during the academic school year or the summer months, said Montgomery Broaded, Butler’s director of international programs.

But after losing $1 million a year on study-abroad programs, Butler started charging students full tuition in 2001 and began limiting the financial aid it provides students who go on programs run by other institutions. Yearly tuition at Butler is $23,500.

“Not only was Butler not receiving a penny of tuition,” Broaded lamented, “but it was sending a check-in some cases for several thousand dollars-to a student. As the numbers grew, the impact on the budget grew more obvious and could not be sustained.”

Study-abroad programs that traditionally appealed to language and literature majors now are attracting business, education and even performing arts students.

Butler has a strong theater program and sends students to Flinders University in Australia, which boasts the top drama school there.

None of the traditional private colleges in the metropolitan area have followed Butler’s lead, mainly because they don’t have as many students participating in study-abroad programs.

Anderson University sends about 25 students each semester overseas and pays for the experience with tuition fees. If a particular program costs more than the tuition, students are eligible for $3,000 in financial aid each semester, said Willi Kant, director of Anderson’s international education.

“It does have a financial impact on the university,” he said. “But the university has made a commitment to encourage students to study abroad. We budget for that. It’s an integral part of the globalization of our academic programs.”

At Franklin College, students studying abroad are not allowed to use its scholarships for overseas expenses. The gifts don’t really equate to actual money, but instead are discounts on tuition, said Simone Pilon, the college’s director of international studies.

“What happens is, if we let them use the scholarships abroad, suddenly that $5,000 has to exist,” Pilon explained. “But we have endowed a number of study-abroad scholarships for students to go abroad.”

Only about eight of 1,000 Franklin College students travel internationally every year. But Pilon is beginning to see more interest, as eight students are signed up for the fall semester alone.

Franklin College loses out on the tuition from those students, but the numbers are so small, the impact is minimal, she said. As the program grows, though, administrators will consider whether to enroll more students to compensate for the loss.

That practice is common at large public universities, which rarely face the challenges of their private brethren.

Purdue University sends about 1,000 students a year to study abroad and is experiencing double-digit growth in its program, said Riall Nolan, dean of its Office of Programs for Study Abroad.

Fifty percent of incoming freshmen indicate they want to travel overseas. At the end of the first year, that number nosedives to less than 5 percent, Nolan said, mainly due to financial restrictions and curriculum demands. Interest still is strong, though.

“The kids themselves are very curious,” he said. “And at the other end, the employers now-and this wasn’t true 15 years ago-are beginning to understand that global education is very important.”

Study-abroad programs have existed for more than a century. Interestingly, their roots can be traced to Indiana University, where David Starr Jordan-who later became president of IU-took a group of students in 1879 to England, France, Italy and what is now Germany.

Kathleen Sideli, associate dean and director of IU’s Office of Overseas Study, cites the little-known fact when making presentations to students.

IU’s study-abroad programs received a boost in 2003 from Cincinnati businessman Edward L. Hutton, an IU alum who gave $9 million to establish an endowment for the overseas study program.

While less fortunate, U of I has a novel way of supporting its program. The money collected from traffic and parking fines, which in a good year can reach $60,000, is earmarked for international studies.

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