International student study abroad debate put on hold

By Diego Ruiz

Macalester College Student Govenment’s recent push to allow international students to use their financial aid to study abroad regardless of their major has been put on hold until next year. The current policy – that international students, unlike domestic students, can only use their financial aid if their major requires study abroad in another country – will remain in place at least until next year.

International students who major in International Studies are the exception, as the department considers their time at Macalester to fulfill their required semester abroad. Like other international students, they cannot use their financial aid.

These policies have led to international students studying away at about a third of the rate of their domestic peers – which an MCSG resolution titled “Equity in Study Abroad,” said “creates a sense of real and perceived inequality between international and domestic students.”

It’s not clear how much international students would add to the study abroad budget if the number of students who studied abroad remained the same.

Eighty-nine percent of international students get financial aid, compared to 71 percent of US students, according to the Financial Aid Office. International students’ aid packages are on average $33,500, which is $8,500 more than those of domestic students.

But that does not take into account the Davis Scholarship that many international students who attended United World Colleges receive. When the Davis Scholarship is factored into the equation, Macalester, on average, only pays $600 more per year for international students’ financial aid – or $300 per semester.

MCSG unanimously passed the resolution titled “Equity in Study Abroad” at their Nov. 30 meeting, in response to concerns from international students and survey results. Sixty-three percent of students who replied to the Fall 2010 MCSG survey said they supported changing the policy.

The resolution advocated that financial aid policies for international students who wish to study abroad change by the 2012-13 academic year at the latest.

That was a year later than the original goal, which had been to change the policy for students studying abroad next year.

The resolution also advocated that the International Center and Study Away Committee “consider the value of the proposed study away experience for each individual student on a case-by-case basis taking into account the type and amount of any previous international experience.”

Provost Kathy Murray said that while MCSG representatives did “an excellent job laying out the issues,” she was concerned about changing the study abroad program too much and too quickly.

“We have so many things up in the air right now, I’m just not going to add one more until we see how it’s going,” Murray said.

“I think we’ve got to figure out a number of things about how we pay for study abroad.” Murray said. “If we’re going to dedicate more money to study abroad we have to take it from somewhere else. That’s a pretty big trade-off.”

Study abroad is moving to a single deadline for next year, in an attempt to even the current disparity between fall and spring semester. Murray also said that the International Center is vetting the current expensive recommended programs to see which are “academically appropriate.”

Several exchange programs with other universities are also in the works, and they could be revenue neutral.

Murray also noted that the survey results from MCSG were not unanimous, and that a substantial number of students still did not agree with changing the policy.

Adam Van der Sluis, a senior representative on MCSG who met with Murray about changing the study abroad policy, said getting the reform in place by next year was a “lofty goal” and that he understood the school’s budget provided constraints.

However, he disagreed that current study abroad policy changes meant that the international student issue should be tabled until next year.

“This might be a good time to make it happen,” Van der Sluis said. He hoped that the application process took into account both domestic and international students’ previous abroad experience.

“If the administration and student body as a whole is concerned about a divide between international and domestic students, having a policy that distinguishes between them is a problem,” he said.

Murray said she did not agree with those who said that the current policy led to domestic and international students not having equal rights.

“In the end, study abroad is a privilege, and one that we value very highly on this campus, so we work hard to make it accessible to the majority of our students-we put our money where our mouth is,” Murray said. “I don’t see a huge inconsistency in placing a high value on that but also saying international students don’t have that same privilege because they are studying abroad.