The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Officials look for ways to balance study away numbers between semesters

By Hazel Schaeffer

Administrators are seriously considering switching to a single application deadline to create a balance in the number of students that study away each semester. This will save money for the college and decrease fall overcrowding in residence halls, classes and around campus. According to Provost Kathleen Murray, on average twice as many students study away in the spring than in the fall. Last year about 70 students went on fall programs while 156 went in the spring. The college is “likely headed in the direction” of having a single application process for all students planning on studying away in a single academic year “within the next year or two.”

According to Murray, the study away budget has grown rapidly in the past decade. The budget for study away programs 1999-2000 was $1.9 million. For this year, it is $3.4 million.

On average, study away costs the college about $15,000 per student. The costs of programs have been increasing each semester, while the number of students that study away has also increased, Murray said.

“We want to continue to send students abroad, so we have continued every year to raise the budget,” she said. “If we are going to continue to send more students, we have to find ways to do this [more cost effectively].”

Students that go abroad pay tuition to Macalester, and Macalester uses that money to pay for the program. Normal financial aid is also applied to their programs.

“That’s the costly part of this,” Murray said. “That’s Macalester’s dollars going to another institution.”

Murray has been working with the study away review committee, the International Center and academic chairs to cut costs.

“We are trying to find relatively painless ways, I think, to cut the expense, by balancing fall and spring [participation] for instance,” Murray said.

The changes being considered come from a 2006 report about changing study abroad programs and policy from the Resources and Planning Committee. Erik Larson, co-chairman of the RPC, said they plan on having the provost report to the RPC, “on the status of the implementation of the recommendations [from the report].”

“We don’t actually turn down students in the residence halls in the fall – not so far, anyway,” Murray said in an e-mail. “But, we have empty beds in the spring, and that is lost revenue. On the enrollment side, we end up needing additional sections taught by part-time faculty to handle the fall enrollment.”

Larson said the academic benefits of changing study away policy are just as convincing as the effects on campus life. According to the report, balancing the number of students on campus each semester would make it easier to plan classes and decrease overcrowding in fall classes.

Murray is also working on developing some reciprocal exchanges with specific foreign institutions. Under this model, a Macalester student would pay full tuition plus room and board to Macalester while another student abroad would do the same at her institution, and both students would trade places the next semester.

Murray said that she did not expect “more than five or ten in any given year.” However, that could still amount to savings of over $75,000 a year, and could “allow someone else to go abroad,” Murray said.

Murray also said the college is considering creating shorter and less expensive programs, especially for the summer. Because these programs are cheaper, it could be possible for the college to give students some financial aid, which the it does do for summer programs.

“The summer might be a valuable experience. [for] student athletes and students who are in the sciences where the curriculum is so hierarchal that it’s really hard to go away” during the academic year, she said.

Even with the summer programs, Murray said she is determined to encourage students to study away in the fall. If they do not voluntarily apply in larger numbers for the fall, then a single application deadline may be created in the spring that would apply to everyone wanting to study abroad the following year.

“The reason to go to this deadline is so that if we don’t achieve the balance through this kind of voluntary shifting around, we can move people and create the balance that we need,” she said.

Larson said he supports switching to a single deadline, because “having a single deadline is the most efficient way for the institution to plan study abroad and to manage it.”

Larson said he does not think a switch to a single application process would have any short-term negative effects for students, because it would be phased in a way that students will understand the changes in advance.

Murray added that she was confident students would be able to adjust, should the college change to a single deadline, citing success on other campuses.

“Where it’s already established, it’s just not a problem for students to think a year ahead,” she said. “We are going to have to do a lot of educating if we decide to make the change.”

Study abroad coordinator Paul Nelson said his office has spoken with people at other liberal arts colleges like the Claremont Colleges and Carleton and discovered that a single deadline for study abroad applications worked well for them.

“We are as resistant to change as anybody else [but] because we know it works in other places, we are confident that we can adjust,” Nelson said, speaking for the staff of the International Center.

However, Nelson said if Macalester tries to balance the study abroad programs, some students may have to go abroad during a semester that they might not choose.

Patrick Schmidt, a member of the Study Away Review Committe SARC, agreed with Murray and Larson that a switch to a single deadline would not be likely to inconvenience many students.

“Looking at the applications, it is my sense that there are enough students who don’t really care that much, that will just allow the IGC people to place those students in a way that balances out the numbers,” Schmidt said. If this is the case, “then there’s really no impact on anybody.”

If enough students would volunteer to study away in the fall, why do twice as many students study away in the spring? Larson noted that the ability to travel in the summer, perceived differences in weather, and, in some cases, the availability of programs were all factors. Students also try to coordinate when they study abroad with their friends.

According to Larson, in a study that sociology students conducted last spring: “The second most common reason students gave for why they study abroad when they do was, ‘when are my friends abroad.’ When a relatively equal number of students study abroad in the fall and the spring, the friendship effects-or what economists might call ‘herding’-will be spread across both semesters.”

A new policy to balance out students across both semesters may go into effect as early as next year.

Jeremy Carp ’12, who is a member of the varsity soccer team, said he is strongly against the possibility that he would have to study away over a particular semester.

“If the numbers are consistently higher in the spring, there’s a reason,” Carp said. “People aren’t going to want to be forced.”

He said changing the study away policy would be unfair to athletes especially if they are forced to choose between sports or the chance to study away during the semester of their choosing. However, if athletes were given special consideration in the application process, he said it would be unfair to non-athletes.

Naomi Sussman ’12, said she would be “frightened” to have to study abroad in the fall because she is still unsure about her major. She said that to go abroad the first semester of her junior year would greatly diminish her flexibility in being able to take courses in other disciplines and switch majors should she decide to do so.

Sussman said the history department was told the SARC would take her reasons for preferring
spring into consideration. However, she said, “that’s not the same as a guarantee.”

She said that she hopes that those deciding who studies abroad would “consider how certain students are in their academic trajectories.”

Achieving a balance between semesters would mean about 35 fewer students on campus in the fall and 35 more in the spring.

“Internationalism is such a core part of the vision of this institution that we will continue to press for opportunities for students to get outside the United States,” Murray said. “I don’t see that ever diminishing. It’s too central to our very identity. My goal is to figure out more ways for it to happen and not have this number [the cost] spiral out of control.

View Comments (4)
More to Discover

Comments (4)

All The Mac Weekly Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • A

    Abigail RandallSep 6, 2019 at 11:42 am

    Thanks for your article on the traveling industry. I might also like to include that if you’re a senior thinking about traveling, it really is absolutely crucial to buy travel cover for senior citizens. When traveling, golden-agers are at greatest risk of having a medical emergency. Obtaining the right insurance cover package for the age group can protect your health and provide peace of mind.