Study away budget cuts in Strategic Plan will not affect student experience

There are 10 priorities listed in Macalester’s draft Strategic Plan, and one of them is to “build a sustainable financial model that will enhance the ability of the college to fulfill its mission.” Among the tactics named to meet that goal is a plan to cut one-fourth of 1 percent of the study away budget. This would reduce the annual expenditure for study away from 5 percent to 4.75 percent of Macalester’s operating budget.

According to the draft of the plan, the expenditure would ideally be cut by “reducing the average cost per program in which students participate,” rather than “reducing student access to study away opportunities.” This would result in a more thorough review of programs approved by the International Center.

Talk of budget cuts has no doubt resulted in some uneasiness about the quality of future study away opportunities, but the IGC emphasizes that student experiences will not be compromised. Instead of applying across-the-board cuts to the study away budget, the International Center and IGC will strive to work directly with programs to control costs and steer students toward more financially sustainable programs.

According to Dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship Christy Hanson, this will allow study away costs to be lowered compared to the overall college budget, without directly harming the department or student experiences.

“The college budget, hopefully, will continue to grow with grants and contributions,” Hanson said. “As the college budget grows or shrinks, so should the study away budget, so that it’s a commensurate amount in the budget.”

The IGC has not yet stopped drawing from Macalester’s general fund to cover study away expenses, and the reduction of costs for study away programs is, Hanson said, what will ultimately make this possible.

Hanson stated her goal as “two-fold: to get more students overseas,” and “to maintain the cost” by being mindful of how to make programs more affordable. She says that the examination of the cost model for study away over the last two years has allowed for a decrease in the percentage of the budget that should not affect any students. The college has asked in the past for a flattening of the study abroad budget, and that has been the focus for the last few years. But the IGC has gone further than that, and is speaking to providers like the School for International Training (SIT) about reduction of costs and seeking out scholarship opportunities. Exchange programs have also helped to keep costs low.

Another strategy the International Center will continue to use for maintaining and lowering costs is the division of study away programs into A, B, and C categories. “A” programs will be Macalester-affiliated programs, “B” programs will be generally approved and satisfy departmental requirements, and “C” programs will be reserved for expensive programs, those not recently attended by Macalester students, or new ones that require greater scrutiny from the College before approval. By more rigorously steering students towards A and B programs, and minimizing the number of C programs students attend, the IGC can reduce the costs of programs and stay within proposed budgetary limits.

“We haven’t had any pressure to cut,” Hanson said. “But the cost of study away was rising and rising and rising. And now, for the past couple of years, we’ve been able to keep it flat.”

International Center Director Kevin Morrison was unavailable for comment.