Administration finds additional funds for study abroad program

By Shannon Mills

After a week of speculation among the junior class, 177 out of 200 applicants have been approved to study abroad next semester. Study Abroad Coordinator Katherine Yngve had initially announced that, due to budgetary constraints, only 139 students would be approved. Macalester’s senior administration has allocated an additional $300,000 from other budgets to finance the 38 extra spots, bringing the total study abroad budget to $2.8 million, according to Treasurer David Wheaton.

A large junior class, unusually high demand for study abroad this semester and the college’s tight budget contributed to the problem of significantly more applicants than available spots this year, Wheaton said.

“As soon as I saw the long list of those who might get rejection letters, my attention was drawn to the number of students with GPAs above 3.0 but lower than 3.25,” Provost Diane Michelfelder wrote in an e-mail to The Mac Weekly. “Twenty-five students fell into this category, and my thinking and that of others turned to see if it were at all possible to find the funding to let these students study away in the Spring.”

Michelfelder, Wheaton and President Brian Rosenberg met last week to discuss the possibility of freeing up additional funds to allow more students to study abroad. Michelfelder and Rosenberg were each able to find unused money in their respective budgets, Michelfelder said. They were also able to draw from the Technology, Equipment and Maintenance budget, which Wheaton said is used for updating computers, fixing sidewalks, replacing old carpeting and other routine maintenance.

In the past, Wheaton said, the college has sometimes needed to accommodate a few extra students studying abroad, but has never had to deal with a problem of this magnitude before. He said that the Resource and Planning Committee (RPC) is beginning to look into the current policy of a “cap” on the number of students who go abroad.

“The whole study abroad experience–who goes, when do they go, what programs do they go to–all of that I think is part of what the RPC is well situated to talk about,” Wheaton said. “There are students on RPC, there’s a lot of faculty on RPC, that’s a good place for that kind of policy decision to be discussed.”

Despite the additional funds, not all students who were academically qualified to study abroad were approved.

“The money we found didn’t meet all of the demand,” Wheaton said. “So some students who may have been interested still aren’t going to be able to go, but it was a way to at least take a partial step toward responding to the increased demand for this kind of experience.”

Most students whose applications were rejected had GPAs below 3.0 or submitted incomplete applications, International Center student employee Aditi Naik ’07 said.

Some students said they plan to appeal their decisions. According to the Handbook for Off-Campus Study, appeals must be made on the basis that the Study Abroad Review Committee (SARC) “misapplied the eligibility requirements or Evaluation Criteria.”

Collier Meyerson ’07, who plans to appeal the committee’s denial of her application to study in Ireland, said she thought that the process was unnecessarily difficult for applicants. Meyerson said her application was denied because she did not submit an essay explaining why she applied to a program that was not on the list of pre-approved programs, since she was not aware of her program’s status.

“It was obvious that my not writing that essay was a fluke,” Meyerson said. “They could have notified me and I would have written it.”

Rachel Oman ’07 applied to study in Tanzania, but said that her application was rejected because the committee felt she did not make a strong enough case for participating in a program that was not on the list of programs recommended by Macalester. She also plans to appeal the decision.

“I think it’s absurd that the college has such a strong preference for recommended programs when there are so many programs available,” Oman said. “What’s the difference between one SIT program and another?”

Some students suggested that the pressure on the administration to allow as many students as possible to study abroad might have encouraged the committee to reject applications for minor problems.

“They were just looking for nitpicky reasons to reject people,” Meyerson said.

Wheaton said that appeals would be considered by the International Center, and if any decisions are reversed, the administration would have to find additional funding.

“On some level it’s informed by resource availability,” Wheaton said. “So if the IC is interested in responding to some of those appeals, then they’re going to have to come back and talk about whether we have the funding to do them. I think we stretched pretty far to open up the additional slots.