Financials of study abroad programs complex, varied

Each school and college manages its own study abroad program.
David Freyermuth / Graphic Designer

Navigating the financial terrain of college is difficult.

Studying abroad is no exception. When comparing costs for study abroad programs among colleges at MU, it is difficult to determine exactly what students are paying for. Cost varies, depending on the type and location of specific programs, but students receive little reasoning in regard to how or why these fees are determined.

Fees go toward more than students’ individual experiences, and the success of various programs is determined by the financial support they get from students who do study abroad.

More than half of the 1,038 students who studied abroad in 2010 and 2011 came from just three colleges at MU — the School of Journalism; the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources; and the College of Business.

School of Journalism

The journalism school offers three study abroad options — exchange, internship and short-term programs.

Costs for semester-long journalism study abroad programs — excluding the New York and Washington, D.C. programs — can differ by up to $10,000. The cost of each program includes an administrative fee. For the 12 exchange programs, participating students each pay a flat $1,250 program fee. For the three internship programs, the program fee is not listed separately from the overall program cost, which includes housing. Students in both programs are responsible for paying their regular tuition costs for 12 credit hours as well.

"We barely got our visas in time. Everything was so scattered and last minute. It made me feel like they just didn't care about our program or me." — Senior Emily Kolars

Exchange programs are essentially a seat swap with a student in a university abroad. The MU student pays MU tuition, the international student pays his or her own tuition and the two students take each other’s place.

MU students can expect to pay between $6,075 and $11,065 for journalism exchanges, depending on the program and excluding tuition costs. Internships run from $8,675 to $16,719.

The journalism program fee covers administrative costs that the office incurs, said Tonya Veltrop, director of the journalism school's study abroad. Fritz Cropp, associate dean for global programs in the journalism school, said these costs include developing course content, securing visas, holding orientation meetings for outgoing MU students and providing orientation for incoming exchange students.

Cropp said 259 students studied abroad through the journalism school during the last academic year. Only 24 of those students were on exchange. With that many students studying abroad each year, issues can arise, despite the securities the fee is supposed to ensure.

Senior Emily Kolars is currently studying abroad through the journalism school at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain. She said the communication with the Journalism Study Abroad Office was not good.

“I don't think I got any information out of this without at least three emails and stopping by the office multiple times,” Kolars said in an email. “We barely got our visas in time. Everything was so scattered and last minute. It made me feel like they just didn't care about our program or me.”

Despite her problems with the office at MU, she said the staff abroad did well to accommodate her, and she recommends students to study abroad.

“I don’t think the services Mizzou provided were worth the money, but I do think that the services that the University of Navarra provides are great!” she said in an email. “The international committee here has been wonderful and so helpful!”

Some of the fee also goes toward accommodating the students coming to MU from abroad, Cropp said in an email.

“We tell all our students it will always cost more to study abroad than to not study abroad,” Cropp said. “There’s no way around that. But we ask them to look at it as a value proposition because, as a value, the opportunity to spend four months out of your comfort learning something about another place, other people, doing the type of work we have our journalism students do is a value.”

Veltrop said most internship programs place students in international internships and enroll them in classes that MU faculty teach in those countries.

When students are on exchanges, they may be one of a few — or the only student — traveling at that time. In contrast, internships and other programs involve MU faculty traveling with larger groups of students.

Veltrop said students in exchange programs need to be more independent. Although there is customer service provided for students, she said there is also independent work for which students are responsible.

“So they’ll give them the resources and help guide them to the classes or guide them through the process, but there’s a lot of work that the student has to do on his or her own, and I think that just goes together with the experience,” Veltrop said. “So if a student needs a lot of hand-holding, I would not suggest an exchange program.”

Journalism school program fees are not outlined separately for internship and short-term programs but, rather, are factored into the overall costs.

College of Business

The College of Business, the third largest study abroad program — determined by percentage of the school that studies abroad — only offers short-term and intersession programs.

For these programs, students can expect to pay between $4,003 and $5,353, excluding tuition costs. This cost includes a College of Business professional fee, which, depending on the length of the program, is between $210 and $420.

Gay Albright, director of international relations for the College of Business, said the program fee encompasses one full-time salaried position within the office and the wages of the student marketers and student managers that help to advertise and organize trips. The other positions in the office are considered faculty positions and are paid by the university. The fee also covers lodging, meals and transportation for cultural events and business trips.

She said these fees also support program booklets as well as other marketing materials that students receive before departure but other administrative costs are very minimal.

For the summer and winter programs, pre-departure classes begin a number of weeks before the actual departure date. These classes are designed to prepare students for the experience and help students that will be traveling together get to know each other.

Albright said the school determines the maximum number of students who can go on a trip based on the faculty support, transportation and housing provisions the school is able to provide. The spots on the trip are open to students on a first-come, first-served basis.

Cropp said trying to compare the costs of programs in one college to the costs of programs in another college is like comparing apples to oranges. The services paid for in the School of Journalism compared to the College of Business or any other school are not comparable. He said the School of Journalism study abroad program does not seek to earn a profit, only to break even. But there is no specific breakdown as to where the fees are going.

Cropp said fees are probably running on the low end.

“Our commitment is to send as many of our journalism students out as we possibly can, so that’s not a for-profit operation,” he said. “We just do whatever we can do to make it work.”

Cropp said that because the program is not-for-profit, any fees raised above and beyond the costs for the year go back to students in the form of scholarships. In years when the program draws a loss, the next year’s students absorb that in their fees.

Fees also help to support the development of new programs.

“You have to be able to develop study abroad programs that are consistently making sense for our students,” Cropp said. “Even as times change, interests change, technology drives change — world affairs drive program change.”

For example, there is no longer a program in Mexico, but Cropp will be launching a new program in Tokyo this summer.

Cropp and Veltrop both said launching a new program in coordination with universities abroad takes an intensive memorandum of agreement that may take years to fully finalize. This planning costs money as well.

Veltrop said the journalism school's study abroad office will help students to make the trip affordable in helping them to find scholarships and the financial aid they need to finance the trip.

College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources

Similar to the journalism school, CAFNR offers summer, winter and semester programs, as well a spring break study abroad opportunity.

CAFNR does not have specific administrative fees, but CAFNR Study Abroad Director Matt Pourney said any actual administrative or miscellaneous expenses incurred are factored in to the total program fee. Depending on the length of the program, these types of expenses typically amount to $150 to $250.

Pourney said students participating in CAFNR study abroad programs are still very much considered MU students. He said their primary point of contact should be their MU faculty leader or partner offices abroad but that students still maintain contact with him and their academic advisers.

He also said that students could pick programs with varying levels of independence required of them. By their nature, semester programs are longer and students may not be traveling with anyone else.

“I think the different students will be best suited to different programs,” he said. “We try to have programs that span the needs of any number of different kinds of students . . . . I would want every student to challenge themselves, but that means different things to different students.”

To establish programs abroad, Pourney said the school often seeks out professors who have strong relationships with international schools or other professional contacts to help them form a connection. He said they might also look for locations that would benefit the study abroad program.

“In other cases, there may be universities or countries that we think are strategically important, and so, even if the connections maybe aren’t as strong, we would actually go out and look for their partnership,” Pourney said.

Housing for students is either arranged by faculty leading the program or coordinated by Pourney. Students are not responsible for finding housing without assistance.

“Some programs are built from the ground up without much assistance directly from a host institution; in those cases, housing is either organized by the faculty member traveling with the program or with support from me,” Pourney said.

The International Center

According to University Collected Rules and Regulations, the Director of the International Center James Scott must approve all study abroad programs in each of the academic colleges. Scott said anyone proposing the new program must complete a series of forms, including a syllabus for the coursework that would be included on the program. Not only is there a review of the paperwork and coursework but there is also an evaluation of the facilities in the proposed location.

Scott said they want faculty to have already visited the site and checked for things such as Internet access and classrooms that would be available to students. He also looks to ensure student health and safety.

However, the International Center plays no role in the determination of fees that the colleges charge for their various programs, Scott said. Instead, each college takes its own approach to setting fees and to the compensation for faculty that lead programs abroad. The International Center only sets fees for the study abroad programs it runs, which are open to any student in any major.

“We don’t review fees for these study abroad programs, but there is a review process in that Dr. Scott is the chancellor’s designee to approve all study abroad programs,” Director of Study Abroad Barbara Lindeman said.

Scott said it is a matter of communication.

“We consult with people all over campus on a variety of issues. And, of course, we stay in touch with the academic divisions that sponsor study abroad programs for themselves,” Scott said.

Students in any study abroad program are charged a $75 fee, which helps to supplement various functions of the International Center, including 24-hour on-call staff that respond to any emergencies of students abroad.

In case of an emergency affecting the health, safety or security of MU students and faculty abroad or MU’s overseas colleagues, they can reach an International Center staff member during office hours or MU Police Department after hours, Lindeman said. She said the goal is to maximize safety and minimize risk, and they respond to 10 to 15 calls each year.

The $75 fee also helps them to provide orientation to faculty and students to prepare them for the trips, which Lindeman said also helps to ensure the health and safety of study abroad participants.

Lindeman serves as an ex-officio member of the Study Abroad Advisory Council, which an MU faculty member chairs.

“They are a group that provides advice to the International Center regarding study abroad programming,” Lindeman said. “And we look at areas of interest across the campus. For instance, we just had a collegial conversation on best practices in advising students with disabilities who are interested in study abroad.”

MU study abroad numbers have increased steadily since 2001. According to the International Center’s website, numbers have doubled in the last decade. Regardless of unforeseen complications or cost, students still find value in cultural exploration.

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