Study abroad program switches to one deadline

By April DeJarlais

Macalester’s study abroad program, in which over 60 percent of students participate, will be switching to a single application deadline for both fall and spring semesters for the 2011-12 school year in order to balance the numbers of students who leave each semester.The actual deadline has not been set, Provost Kathleen Murray said, but it will be during the spring semester of 2011 and will mostly affect current freshmen who wish to study abroad their junior years. An official letter will be sent to first-years by the end of this semester calling attention to the change.

The logistics of the single deadline have not been solidified either. As of now students will be able to state preferences for which semester they wish to study abroad and provide justification for their requests, such as a sports schedule.

The single application deadline deviates from the separate deadline system in place now that that allows students to apply for fall and spring semesters abroad at different times.

Macalester will now join five similarly sized “peer” schools including Grinnell College, Bowdoin College and Lawrence University, who have all changed to a single deadline. Smaller schools feel more financial pressure when there are large disparities between fall and spring study abroad numbers-this year Macalester had nearly twice the amount of students leave in the spring as went abroad in the fall, which is now causing fiscal losses in on-campus housing and tuition.

A single application deadline is not necessary at larger schools, since “their capacity to deal with imbalances is greater,” study abroad coordinator Paul Nelson said.

Macalester’s study abroad budget has doubled in the past seven years-a rate matched only by the cost of the college’s health insurance-but is “unsustainable” at that growth, Murray said. She hopes that a balanced number of absent students each semester will improve Macalester’s financial situation and provide more ways for students to study abroad.

“It’s [the single deadline] a fairly easy way to save [funds],” Murray said.

The college also plans to improve January and summer study abroad sessions. In those cases students can get the experience of studying abroad, but not miss an entire semester of life on Macalester’s campus. The college will be able to use the saved study abroad funds for scholarships. This January no students went on study abroad sessions overseen by Macalester faculty, since no support is offered to faculty by the administration, Murray said.

Any Macalester financial aid offered to students can be used for those who study abroad in the fall or spring, and $500 worth of aid is possible for those who study over January.

Both Murray and Nelson acknowledged the challenge of switching to the single application deadline.

“[The new deadline] is a little against the grain of the Macalester personality,” Nelson admitted, and calls the main challenge of the new policy “getting the word out accurately to all concerned.”

Murray recognized the “anxiety” that can accompany a change to such a prominent program at Macalester, but wishes the “emphasis to stay on trying to increase [study abroad] opportunities,” she said. “We are moving forward with what seems to be the best option