Study abroad funding policy to change, final version not yet clear

QERC, where Heather Cox is studying abroad this semester, would not be affected by the proposed study abroad funding changes. (Photo provided by Heather Cox)

By Brad Crofford

Funding for study abroad will be changing, but it is not yet clear how.

On March 11, the Cabinet had approved proposals passed by the Scholarship Committee, but it is currently reconsidering them, according to Dr. Scott Strawn, vice president for financial affairs, in a March 15 email to The Echo.

These proposals would have made it so that institutional scholarships no longer apply to study abroad programs, with the exception of international studies majors.

The issue will be reconsidered at the next Cabinet meeting, according to Strawn.

“What we do know is that there will be changes in how we administer financial aid to students who go on study abroad trips,” Strawn said. “We are taking more time and gathering a bit more data before we make a final decision on exactly how these changes will work and how we will operationalize them.”

While the Cabinet had originally approved these proposals on March 11, they had not been communicated to the student body. They were, however, raised during a Cabinet Chat on Tuesday, March 12.

“[We] are still trying to sort out how this change might impact our Tuition Remission benefit program. This is why there has been a delay in communication to the campus on this topic,” Strawn said.

The proposed changes

Currently, scholarships apply to study abroad programs, according to Director of Financial Aid Diana Lee in a March 13 interview with The Echo.

The exceptions to the current policy are scholarships linked to room and board. Also, it is up to academic departments to decide whether departmental applications apply for study abroad.

Based on the changes the Cabinet had approved on March 11, scholarships would no longer apply for study abroad programs, with the exception of international studies program majors, according to Lee.

State and federal aid, including loans, would follow students studying abroad. In addition, scholarships would still apply for students studying at the Quetzal Education Research Center (QERC) in Costa Rica.

It seems this exemption for international studies program majors is because international experience is a required aspect of their degree program.

According to the 2012-2013 Undergraduate Catalog, international studies program majors are required to have “the equivalent of a minimum of one semester of international experience which can be satisfied by participation in an international CCCU program or an approved ISP internship.”

But what would prevent someone from simply declaring an international studies major for the sole purpose of receiving scholarships for study abroad?

“The decision was made that the student had to be in international studies for at least two years in order to apply to study abroad,” Lee said.

As of March 13, the plan was for these changes to take effect in Fall 2013 if approved by the Board, according to Lee.

The process

These proposals originated in the Scholarship Committee. This committee is composed of faculty and administrative staff, including three vice presidents. There are no student representatives on this committee, according to Lee, who serves on the committee.

After passage by the Scholarship Committee, the proposals were considered by the Cabinet. The Cabinet passed them on March 11. There are no student representatives to the Cabinet.

Students were able to provide input during Cabinet Chat. While there had been no public announcement of it, Vice President for Enrollment Management Linda Cantwell said “I think the word is out. The ‘SNU network’ is alive and well.”

“Students gave input last night at Cabinet Chat…Dr. Strawn, Dr. Gresham, and I were listening,” Cantwell said during a March 13 interview with The Echo.

The Cabinet is currently reconsidering the issue. They hope to have a decision by early April, according to Strawn.

If approved by the Cabinet, these proposals would go before the Board of Trustees. There are student representatives to the Board.

The potential effects

The changes to study abroad funding could potentially affect a number of areas, including the number of students studying abroad, the programs they choose to attend and, indirectly, university enrollment.

Dr. Dunnington, director of the SNU Center for Global Engagement, discussed the significance of the proposals.

“I have been a strong advocate for SNU funded scholarships to be applied for at least one semester of approved study abroad programs for SNU students,” Dunnington wrote in an email to The Echo on March 13. “I have supported this because SNU has strongly affirmed a commitment to helping students develop a global perspective–and I know of nothing that helps this develop and grow than a semester abroad.”

Dunnington also noted that it is also worthy of support “because of the Church of the Nazarene’s strong commitment to be a global church, taking the gospel to all corners of the world.”

Dunnington is currently on sabbatical at Africa Nazarene University in Kenya and was not part of the current discussions about potential changes.

The ability to study abroad may play a role in the university’s attractiveness to prospective students.

“I believe our somewhat longstanding generous (more than many other schools) policy has been an attractive feature in marketing SNU to potential students—particularly those having already come to value cross-cultural educational experiences,” Dunnington said.

Based on her intuition and 18 months at SNU, Cantwell does not believe the changes approved by the Cabinet on March 11 would affect enrollment.

“I did not see it as an inhibitor to growth, or I would not have voted ‘yes’,” Cantwell said. “I’ve yet to have a prospective student or parent ask me about study abroad opportunities.”

Cantwell emphasized that there would still be opportunities to “enhance a global perspective” through QERC, mission trips and possibly the Morningstar Institute.

Unanswered questions

There are some aspects of the proposed policy that remain unclear.

Cantwell and Dunnington were unsure whether aid would still apply to students studying in Kenya as part of the Morningstar Institute. According to its website, “The Morningstar Institute is an international development and poverty alleviation training institute, housed in Southern Nazarene University’s School of Business.”

Strawn declined “for now” to answer a question regarding Morningstar in a March 15 email, citing the Cabinet’s reconsideration of the proposals.

Cantwell was unclear in answering a question regarding how students should plan for the fall of 2013.

According to an email sent to students by Dr. Dennis Williams on March 7, “Application deadlines to study abroad are quickly approaching in the next few weeks.”

The regular deadline for fall 2013 study abroad programs through the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) is April 1, according to BestSemester.com. Enrollment for fall classes at SNU began on Monday, March 25.

In a March 13 interview, Cantwell said she was unsure whether the Board would be considering these proposals by electronic vote or during a May meeting on the campus.

With the status of financial aid for study abroad being unclear until the Board’s consideration, it is unclear how students planning to study abroad in fall 2013 are to know in March whether they can afford it.

Other universities’ policies

Policies regarding institutional aid for study abroad programs seem to vary widely.

Trevecca Nazarene University’s (TNU) policy seems similar to the proposed changes.

TNU reminded students in an email on March 11 that “no state or internal financial aid can be used for study abroad programs (e.g., PK scholarships, HOPE scholarship, etc.). Only federal aid can be used,” according to information provided by Tyler Whetstone, editor-in-chief of TNU’s student newspaper, TrevEchoes.

Olivet Nazarene University (ONU) allows some aid to apply, according to information provided by Meagan Ramsay, editor-in-chief of ONU’s student newspaper, The GlimmerGlass.

“Financially, Olivet students are allowed to use 50 percent of Olivet scholarships, up to a maximum of $2,500. However, any government funds may be used but no more than $2,500 Olivet financial aid may be provided. This does not apply to programs over the summer. This puts a large damper on students who attend Olivet because of their scholarships, not giving them as likely an opportunity to study abroad,” Ramsay said.

Taylor University, a CCCU university in Upland, Ind., appears to have a comparatively generous financial aid policy.

Its “Financial Aid Study Abroad Policy” available through its study abroad website states:

“Students enrolled in Taylor University’s established study abroad programs will receive financial aid as though they were on campus. Students may receive institutional financial aid for their first study abroad program. Federal financial aid is available for additional study abroad programs. No financial aid (federal or institutional) will be awarded to students attending study abroad programs not offered through Taylor University.”

One comment

  1. Study abroad was an important consideration in my college choice. I felt that SNU really supported study abroad in it’s advertising and at multiple recruiting events where they told me my scholarships would transfer. I was extremely close to attending John Brown University in AK which also transfers study abroad scholarships. My choice would have been much easier if John Brown had not offered study abroad scholarships because that would’ve been a deal breaker for me.

What do you think?