Study abroad office uncertain of future destination trends

By Anna Waugh

Increasing living costs and the weakening U.S. dollar may affect the choices that some students make when selecting study abroad destinations. Options may be limited specifically in some expensive cities like London, Paris and Tokyo, where rent for an apartment can fetch a price twice what it might be in the Twin Cities.Applications for Fall 2008 study abroad are due March 14.

Though the study abroad office has yet to notice any changes in where students are applying, the office has raised the concern that additional costs of study abroad in some places may be limiting students’ study abroad experiences, Study Abroad Coordinator Paul Nelson said.

Some programs, like IES – a Chicago based non-profit study abroad organization – are considering scaling back services in more expensive countries, opting to provide a basic program and charge an additional fee for services like better housing and excursions.

At Macalester, students are responsible for paying Mac tuition while they are abroad, even though the majority of programs cost less than the Macalester sticker price. If a program costs more than Macalester then the student is responsible for making up the difference.

According to Paula Paul-Wagner, assistant director of the international center, this allows students to receive full Macalester credit, not transfer credit, even though they are attending different institutions. Because most students maintain full-time status at Macalester while they are abroad, the college continues to provide health insurance, full access to e-mail and other services like online library databases. It also enables more students to go abroad.

However, many study away programs have room and board costs that exceed Macalester costs, and this puts an added pressure on students to take on loans.

“I was looking at housing [at Kings College London], and the study abroad office gave me a cost estimate [for expenses], and I noticed that the actual cost of housing was two times the estimate. In order to go there I had to take more loans,” Grace Ausick ’08 said.

“In terms of grants [from financial aid], we don’t adjust for that,” Brian Lindeman, director of financial aid, said. “[However], student loans can sometimes be made available.” The reason for this he explained is that, “Before the change in the dollar, the majority of students were not faced with higher living costs away than here.” He also said that there have been no talks about providing additional grant aid.

Though costs may be going up, Nelson said that the study abroad office takes cost into consideration when deciding whether or not to recommend a program.

“We want to make sure that students are getting a return on their investment,” Nelson said. However, he also said that even with the weakening value of the dollar, “institutionally, nothing has changed [in funding study abroad].