Economic strain means further delay in applying financial aid to international student study abroad

When domestic students study abroad, their financial aid dollars generally go with them. But international students at Macalester receive, on average, more financial aid dollars per capita than domestic students, increasing marginal costs for the College to send them on the same study away programs. After more than a year of deliberation members of the Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) are still working with administrators to find cost-neutral solutions that would permit international students to study away. Discussions suggest, however, that this possibility is not in the foreseeable future.

As policy stands now, there are two instances in which international students may apply financial aid to study abroad programs: acceptance to the Macalester-Maastricht Perspectives on Globalization Program or requirement by a major (other than International Studies) to study abroad. The Equity in Study Abroad resolution, passed last year by MCSG, is meant to make this policy more flexible for international students studying abroad with Macalester aid.

A far higher proportion of international students, roughly 88 percent, are receiving aid from the school this year. According to Dean of Financial Aid Brian Lindeman, the average Macalester scholarship for an international student this year is about $34,300, or $24,900 if money from the Davis Foundation is excluded. The average size of a Macalester scholarship for a US student is about $26,300.

At this point the holdup on the resolution is purely financial, as both MCSG and the administration feel that available study away options for all students are in the school’s best interest.

“It’s a really long process. We’re trying to create cost-neutral options and exchange programs both for domestic students and, feasibly, international students,” says chair of MCSG’s Academic Affairs Committee Kate Hamilton ’13. “There’s also the potential for cost-neutral options within the United States, so we really just have to set up those connections.”

Provost Kathleen Murray has been working on such alternative solutions, which were first introduced by the Resource and Planning Committee in 2005. These changes are happening slowly over time, beginning last year with the switch to a single application deadline to balance the number of students studying away in the fall versus spring. Murray says the next goal would be “creating exchange opportunities in which a student from an international university comes to Macalester and our student goes there, they both pay home tuition and no dollars exchange hands, which is revenue and expense neutral for us.”

Murray adds that the College has been “exploring shorter term opportunities, specifically for the summer,” as they are less expensive.

Though Macalester could potentially make cuts from other areas in order to shore up money for international students to apply to their study abroad, such a solution would mean that domestic students who are qualified to go overseas could potentially be denied the opportunity. This decision could be made on a number of criteria – academic standing, international experience, and so on – but it is not a path the administration wishes to pursue.

“They’re not going to say no to any domestic student [who wants to study abroad],” Hamilton says. “They haven’t so far, and I think that’s great.”

Murray maintains a similar stance on this issue, saying that while she supports study abroad options for all students, the reality of the financial situation is that eligibility has to be cut off somewhere. A highly competitive process, she says, is not a fair solution.

“We’ve never, ever told a student they couldn’t go because we were over budget,” she says. “But [in allowing international students to go abroad] we would be at a point where we would have to look at [domestic] students and say ‘you can’t go.’ And I’m just not ready to do that at this moment.”

Macalester has not always had trouble financing study abroad, but the numbers fluctuate so much from one year to the next that trends mean everything. Due to the recession and inflated class sizes for the current junior and sophomore classes, financial situations have changed and the school has exceeded its study abroad budget this year.

“The budget up until 2008 had been growing in very significant ways annually. Then the recession hit and we saw two years of less student interest, so we had lower numbers of students wanting to study away in the two years following the recession,” Murray says. “This year we have recovered in an extraordinary way.”

With 340 students planning to study abroad this semester, up from past numbers around 240, Murray says that the study abroad program could go as much as $1 million over budget. Murray believes more time to survey study abroad trends is necessary in order to reach some kind of conclusion on this issue.

“I will need to watch what happens with the numbers and with our savings lot I’m going to arbitrarily say, three years,” she says. “An awful lot can happen. If we start to feel a genuine recovery, more things become imaginable at that point. If we stay in this very slow-growth environment where our endowment is essentially flat for a while, that limits the choices we get to make.”

If anything other than financial changes could spur movement in the process, Hamilton says it would be increased student involvement in the coming semesters.

“I need students who are interested in continuing this further, because it may not be resolved by the end of this spring,” she says. “Right now we’re in a small, uphill battle towards getting to this point where it’s feasible, and once we get close to that I think that strong support for it will happen faster. But right now I just need people who will next year say ‘yes, we still care about this.'”

In order to avoid exclusion as best as possible, the administration plans to take time to both weigh its options and create new ones so as to maximize study abroad opportunities.

“I understand the student desire, I understand it really well,” Murray says. “If I had a little magic wand I would wave it and we’d make it so, but right now I have to weigh the very real costs that are out there.”