Keeping you informed: Major changes in Assumption's Study Abroad Policy

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Kristina Wyman's picture
Kathryn Severance

Assumption College recently made changes to its study abroad policies, forcing students to pay the cost of a semester at Assumption, even if their study abroad program is less than regular tuition.

According to the new Study Abroad Policy, all students who do a semester abroad in the future will have to pay their semester fee to Assumption, rather than paying it directly to the study abroad program. This is to ensure that the College is not losing revenue on Assumption students who choose to do a semester abroad with a program, which costs less than Assumption tuition. To offset the would-be loss, students must still pay their regular tuition, as well as the $1,000 study abroad fee.

Dr. Eloise Knowlton, dean of undergraduate studies, explained that this decision was made in anticipation of the spring 2014 semester, by the academic administration, her office and the office of financial affairs. It went into effect and became part of the policy for the spring of 2014. All students currently in the process of applying and preparing for study abroad programs were warned that changes might take place.

“[With the former semester abroad fee policy], students were cut a check for their financial aid package and could apply it to their program as they needed,” said Knowlton.

This meant that in the case of programs with a cost lower than regular tuition for a semester at Assumption, the student had funds left over from their financial aid package, which allowed the student the liberty to use the surplus funds on flights or any other costs. The true intention of a financial aid package is for aiding in the cost for attending a school. In the case of lower-cost programs such as the Chile study abroad program, additional funds were provided, by way of financial aid money, for flights.

This was causing Assumption to lose money that it could not afford to lose. A variety of solutions to the issue were proposed, including the idea of preventing study abroad students from taking their financial aid packages with them to their study abroad program (which is not something that’s allowed by a large number of universities) as well as the idea of only allowing financial aid to be provided for study abroad students with majors, such as language majors, that indicate a need and not a choice for study abroad.

The idea of removing the College’s policy of allowing financial aid packages for study abroad semesters was unsavory to those considering the College’s options.

Knowlton shared that this was the only option that they truly felt was best for both students and the College.

“Students pay home tuition directly to the College [as well as any difference in costs of the study abroad program and regular tuition], she said. “This means that students now must pick up the cost of the flight.” Other institutions have made this same decision, including both Merrimack College and Stonehill College.

She shared that the College is hoping that the change will allow for revenue to be made on study abroad programs with costs lower than that of Assumption tuition.

“We’re trying to be very prudent and careful, without letting go of the things that we really believe in,” she said. “Class enrollment truly affects this and we have recently seen a drop-off in the rate of enrollment, [in particular, with the class of 2017].”

“I would like to see if someone would be willing to work with me,” said Knowlton, of considering putting in place a plan and locating outside funding to organize grants to defray study abroad flight costs for those who financially qualify. She is currently waiting for a response regarding this idea from the modern and classical languages department.

Dr. Dona Kercher, professor of Spanish and film, shared her concerns about the program.

“I think that the college should consider that some of these cheaper semester abroad programs have a lower cost due to their more expensive travel fees,” she said, noting that this was true of the China and Argentina programs.

She went on to share that she understands the reason for the changes to the financial study abroad policy, but she feels strongly that the College should strive to make their study abroad programs revenue neutral, therefore maximizing the benefits for the students traveling abroad and in turn, encouraging other students to study abroad. She also feels that the $1,000 study abroad fee “that goes to take care of paperwork filing,” should be lower.

“We didn’t make this change to be ungenerous; we did it to try to keep being generous, so that we don’t have to stop [allowing financial aid to apply to study abroad semesters]. We don’t want to discourage people from going. That’s not our mission,” Knowlton said.
However, this new policy does not appeal to alumni who have travelled abroad while at Assumption.

“My study abroad experience was so enlightening in part because I could afford to travel to numerous countries during my semester long stay,” said alumna Alexandra Caulway. “I thinking increasing the price of tuition has the potential to make studying abroad more financially challenging for students. To travel is costly, and I know it would have been harder for me to have all the experiences I did if I had to pay higher tuition.”

Thus far, at least one student has been affected by these policy changes. Though it’s not certain this student made the decision solely for financial reasons, it’s surely something that future study abroad students at Assumption might consider before making their travel plans.

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