Study Abroad and Save

by William H. Sudduth

The number of Americans studying abroad is up by 84 percent. Students seeking bargain educations abroad has grown so quickly that a backlash has been seen, both at American schools and those in foreign countries. The University of Pennsylvania, for example, now charges students going abroad the same amount they would pay on campus in Philadelphia. And some countries that heavily subsidize higher education, including Britain, have taken to charging foreigners full price.

However, increasing numbers of students are looking beyond the traditional destinations of Britain, France and Spain, venturing to low-cost countries in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa and the Far East. In most cases, students receive full credit toward graduation for their overseas classes, although courses do not always count toward a major or a student’s grade point average. For example, the suburban Philadelphia school runs one of the United States’ largest foreign study programs and was a pioneer in translating foreign credits and grades for acceptance by U.S. institutions. “Now, though, the luxury has become so democratized,” Larsen said, “that many students going abroad are from relatively inexpensive state universities.” They find that it can cost even less to study in Toulouse, France – or possibly Paris. Moreover, many institutions allow their financial aid to accompany students abroad. The government now requires that all Federal support, such as Stafford loans and Pell grants, be portable.

Case in point: Santos-Lim’s semester in Spain, coordinated by Sweet Briar College in Virginia, cost $7,870 plus airfare. Though she had a need-based scholarship that covered her tuition – every penny of which Yale contributed toward Ms. Santos-Lim’s study abroad – that still made for a substantial savings, according to her father, Jose Lim. “For going to Spain, it cost us about $4,000,” Mr. Lim said. “For staying at Yale, the out-of-pocket would have been $6,000 or $7,000.”

Another example of enriched education at a handsome savings is Megan Hoyt, a 1996 graduate of Carleton College. Hoyt, a Russian Major, studied at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, during the first semester of her junior year and moved to the Russian State University of St. Petersburg for the remainder of the year. The total cost? About half the $23,375 that year would have cost at Carleton in Minnesota. “Not only is it broadening for the student, it very definitely is a boon to the parents financially,” said her father, Sam Hoyt, a New York investor-relations consultant. With the help of Carleton’s financial aid, Hoyt estimated, “I would have ended up paying something like $5,000 for the entire year.”

Statistics show that the number of American undergraduate and graduate students studying abroad for credit has almost doubled over the last decade, to more than 89,242 in the 1995-1996 school year, the most recent for which the Institute of International Education, leading exchange and training group, has compiled figures. And the tempo is continuing to pick up, according to Edwin Battle, the group’s Director of Publications. “There has been an explosion of new programs attracting students to areas that were once considered very out of the way, or in the case of the former Soviet Union, almost inaccessible only a few years ago,” Battle said. While administrators and students acknowledge that saving money is often a consideration in the choice of study abroad, they insist that the paramount factor is the educational experience. Career-oriented students, specialists say, recognize the value that corporations place on time spent abroad in today’s increasingly global markets.

Not surprisingly, the huge savings – especially for students paying the full cost of expensive private colleges – has made some administrators and professors uneasy about the revenue loss and the absence (albeit temporary) of those who are often among their best students. “There are some institutions that are sort of desperate to keep their enrollment up,” said Michael Delaney, Director of Study-Abroad Programs at the University of Colorado. “Some,” he said, “are limiting the number of students they allow to go abroad.” Others (even schools like Midalebury College in Vermont) that are less pressed have had to nudge more students to take their terms abroad in the autumn so the school will not suffer so much from empty dormitory rooms and classroom seats during the spring term, which is a far more popular time for studying abroad.

There are colleges – particularly smaller, financially struggling institutions (many of them church related) – that insist that students who go abroad pay regular, stay-at-home fees. The schools then pocket the savings from lower cost foreign study. (For its part, Penn says it uses the difference to upgrade and improve the monitoring of study abroad programs.) Publicly supported institutions, of course, are leery of the criticism they might face for using taxpayer money to support students in glamorous overseas settings.

Foreign nations are tightening controls as well. Though schools in Canada are heavily recruiting price-conscious American students, some popular European countries have become decidedly less interested in having foreigners fill their subsidized classroom slots. For instance, Britain – still host to more than twice as many Americans as any other country – charges foreigners full subsidized costs, as do Ireland and Germany. France has also raised fees for foreign students substantially. But while the choicest destinations are becoming more expensive, money-saving choices are more numerous than ever. It is just that a student may wind up in Salamanca or Braunschweig instead of Madrid or Berlin.

According to Peterson’s, myths still prevail that study abroad is only for wealthy language students in their junior year of college. Affordable study-abroad programs cover a multitude of majors, personal circumstances, and budgets. Students from just about any major can find study-abroad programs to fit their specific academic needs. Language and literature majors are the most common, but the number of humanities, business, social science, and engineering students studying abroad is increasing. Because more students see the benefits of studying abroad of studying abroad, more institutions are finding ways to facilitate the demand. As the population of undergraduate students changes from the typical 18-year-old to an older student, so do the possibilities to study overseas.

Additional Resources:
Studying Overseas: How to Get Uncle Sam to Foot the Bill.
Discount Student Travel and Airfare.