Macalester cancels international study away for spring 2021

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The entrance to Macalester. Photo by Abe Asher ’20.

Estelle Timar-Wilcox, News Editor

On Tuesday, Oct. 13, Provost Karine Moe announced in an email to the campus community that the college will not allow most study away programs to continue this spring.

Citing concerns of “border security, travel restrictions, and the potential for disruptions of consular support abroad,” Moe wrote that Macalester will only allow domestic study away and virtual participation in international programs. 

Students who intended to study away next semester have until Nov. 1 to request a change of plans, switching their applications to a later semester, applying for a domestic or virtual spring program or cancelling their study away altogether. 

Macalester’s Center for Study Away (CSA) is currently offering 13 domestic programs in the US for the spring semester, some virtual and some in-person. Some international programs are also offering virtual classes, which Macalester will allow students to take from home.

CSA director Kevin Morrison acknowledged that remote study away isn’t an ideal solution. However, some programs offer unique classes that the CSA says students can still benefit from by taking remotely. 

“We certainly believe that a primary benefit of studying abroad is that students can immerse themselves in another culture,” Morrison wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “That said, there may be virtual programs that offer students opportunities that deeply interest them or that offer curricular opportunities that are unavailable to them at Macalester, and we want to be as flexible as possible.”

Macalester cancelled all fall 2020 study away opportunities in May due to similar uncertainties around travelling and living abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last spring, sudden cancellations of study away left students scrambling to get home — a situation the college wants to avoid repeating. 

The last-minute rush home from abroad last spring was also a financial burden on the college, since Macalester paid for some students’ airline tickets while also refunding room and board fees for those living on campus. 

COVID-19 has increased the college’s costs of operation on several fronts since students were sent home last spring; in her community conversation last week, President Suzanne Rivera noted that this is the most expensive semester Macalester has ever had, with a $5-6 million operating deficit. Last spring, Moe and Morrison said that future study away opportunities would depend on the college’s financial situation. 

But Morrison said that finances were not a concern in this round of decision-making. 

“While it is the case that the budget is tight this year, all of our budget modelling has included the budget for Study Away,” Morrison wrote to The Mac Weekly. “Budgetary concerns did not play a role in this decision.”

Macalester is still considering future abroad opportunities for students whose study away plans were cancelled this year. Moe wrote in her announcement that the college may offer some programs during module five, which will take place over the summer.

Summer study away comes with some additional financial complications. Students studying away during a regular semester pay their typical Macalester tuition and keep their financial aid; students studying away over the summer or J-term are responsible for funding those trips themselves. 

Macalester is offering classes during module five at no additional cost to students who complete modules one through four. The administration and the CSA have not yet determined what the cost for going abroad during that module might look like. 

Morrison and Moe declined to give specifics on the cost of summer study away, writing only that “the college is still working on plans for Module 5 and study away.”

Morrison wrote that the CSA hopes to share a list of Macalester-approved summer programs “as soon as possible.” 

Students also have the option to defer their study away plans to fall 2021. In an email sent to students who were supposed to study away this year, the CSA wrote that it is a possibility, but that the opportunity isn’t set in stone. 

“We will make every effort to accommodate students who want to reschedule their plans to study away,” CSA staff wrote in the email. “We appreciate your patience as it may take some time to confirm that this will indeed be possible.”

Morrison is optimistic that deferring to the fall will be an option.

“While we cannot at this time make any guarantees, we expect that members of the class of 2022 will be able to defer their plans to the fall of 2021,” Morrison wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. 

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