Dr. Gresham, administrators answer study abroad funding questions

Students and faculty ask questions about the study abroad changes. Photo by Brad Crofford

Brad  Crofford, Editor-In-Chief

After university president Loren Gresham’s outlining of changes to the study abroad funding policy at a campus meeting last week, the students, faculty and staff in attendance had numerous questions.

In fall 2013, the $4,000 and $2,500 caps for international studies majors and non-international studies majors will already be in place, but during this semester, students who had been accepted to programs by April 1 can apply to have more funding based on personal need. This would be determined on a case by case basis.

According to Dr. Scott Strawn, vice president for financial affairs, the person to contact for this would be Diana Lee, director of financial aid.

“We talked about Diana Lee in financial aid, that she would use their EFC [expected family contribution] and that financial need would be the major factor we would utilize,” Strawn said.

Strawn says that higher education consulting company Noel Levitz has played an important role in changing the way the university distributes financial aid.

“I think it’s actually the most equitable and fair way, to really look at a student’s ability to pay as a key measure for how much support you provide for their opportunity to be here at SNU,” Strawn said.

One concern raised by faculty was whether there would be a list of approved sister school (that is, Nazarene) study abroad programs to aid faculty in advising. Gresham said that provost Mary Jones would make and distribute this list.

Several participants raised concerns about the narrower range of approved programs. Professor Michelle Bowie stated that based on her and her daughter’s research, some of the sister school programs are more akin to literary or historical field studies trips. This is because the students travel with a professor instead of living in a more immersive context.

“They’re not living on a campus and they’re not living with a host family and doing that kind of thing. It’s more of a literary field studies/historical field studies kind of thing where they’re just touring more than the live-in experience that our students get in the other programs,” Bowie said.

“They get full credit, but they’re not immersed in the culture in the same way.”

QERC and Morningstar

Funding for study at the Quetzal Educational Research Center (QERC) and the Morningstar Institute will remain unchanged. These programs may become increasingly popular with students due to some upcoming changes.

When asked about potentially expanding QERC to apply for courses of study outside of environmental science and biology, Jones said there have been conversations about that, including psychology.

The Morningstar Institute primarily focuses on business and poverty alleviation. It has offerings in Kenya, Swaziland, and Belize. According to Dr. Tom Herskowitz, Morningstar director, funding applies to all three Morningstar programs, including “any other ones we open up. It’s a Morningstar program, not a geographic specific program.”

In addition, Morningstar has some funding available to help students with transportation costs.

Veritas, IGE and other programs

Junior missions major Terra Frederick raised the concern that the approved study abroad programs do not necessarily line up with all students’ areas of studies. She said that she had chosen and been accepted to a Veritas program, a Christian study abroad program she said better lines up with her calling to missions. Best Semester programs do not provide the same opportunity, she said.

Bowie noted that Veritas and IGE [the Institute for Global Education] have been repeatedly welcomed on campus, with recruiters and booths set up in the Commons. IGE runs a program in Vienna, Austria that attracts SNU students most semesters.

“We’ll see about that,” Gresham said. “We tried to leave some flexibility in that. I’d like to know a lot more about the programs, the personnel, the expectations and lifestyle covenant issues, and supervision. We don’t want to send a student to a program that we don’t feel totally confident that they will be in an environment that will be safe and where they will be nurtured in their faith in the way that we would want them to in one of our programs.”

International students

Rachel Graves, director of international student services, raised the question of students who have no aid other than institutional aid.

“They don’t get any federal or state aid and very few external scholarships, so they rely a lot on their institutional aid. I can think of six of my international students that are international studies majors,” Graves said.

The Cabinet seemed somewhat unsure in answering this question.

“Is that a conundrum? I mean, international studies majors, would they still have a requirement to study abroad? Would not coming to North America be their study abroad?” Dr. Linda Cantwell, vice president for enrollment management, asked.

Graves noted that an international student is currently studying in Spain this semester as she was not allowed to count living in Brazil (her home country) as study abroad.

“I think it’s a great question. I didn’t realize a person would come from halfway around the world to here to study abroad with the international studies program,” Gresham said. “We’ll just have to ask the appropriate people to take a look at that and see what to do.”

Missed opportunities and higher costs

Some students and faculty suggested the policy change will be difficult for current students. Unlike future incoming freshmen, they had expectations about study abroad funding.

“I play volleyball, so the only semester I can go is my very last semester. If I could have gone, I would have gone this semester or I would have gone last semester. But I just can’t, so that’s the one semester that I have off. So I’ve been planning since freshman year to go and I might not be able to now,” junior Kira Roberts said.

The cost of approved programs versus others was also a recurring issue during the meeting. Roberts had worked with study abroad advisor Elise Blalock to find a program that is about $10,000 cheaper than the Best Semester program. Though it is not a Christian program, Roberts believes programs like this are sometimes students’ only options due to cost and wondered how the change would impact the programs eligibility for institutional funding.

“We haven’t established an appeals process, so I can’t really say for sure what that might be,” Gresham said. “

Gresham then asked if the program Roberts had found was approved by an Australian school. When she said she was pretty sure it was, Gresham suggested that since SNU has required having the last 15 out of 30 hours at SNU, Roberts could transfer for the semester.

“You could transfer in the last 15 [hours], take advantage of a cheaper program, have some credits on there from an Australian university. Still an option,” Gresham said.

Gresham had emphasized earlier in the meeting that students could still apply to programs that are not on the pre-approved list.

“Any SNU student can apply to these programs. If they’re accredited programs, they can go, they can transfer their credit back if they save enough money. Even though it’s not our credit, we accept it if it’s an accredited program. So that option would still be there,” Gresham said.

While looking at costs for study abroad, Frederick noted that students also consider lost wages.

“[While on campus] I can work, and that also helps me with a lot of other expenses. When I study abroad, I cannot get a job, so there’s also the extra couple of thousand dollars,” Frederick said.

Comparing with other universities

Throughout the meetings, administrators emphasized the continued generosity of the university’s funding for study abroad.

Strawn estimated that the university would remain one of the most generous with the new policy.

“I think this plan, although less than what we do, keeps us well on the top five to ten percent of what schools do nationwide easily, and certainly when you look at all private liberal arts colleges,” Strawn said.

Dr. Mike Redwine, vice president for student development, noted that this w­on’t affect many students as they do not receive that much institutional aid.

“The only ones affected are those that receive more than $8,000 a year if you’re an international studies major, or you receive $5,000 of institutional aid if you’re a non-international studies major, or you’re not going to one of these programs that are pre-approved or one of our own programs to receive your full aid,” Redwine said. “And, honestly, if you’re above that, just be thankful because you actually attended school here for on campus semesters less expensively than everyone else did because the average is about $8,000 for the year.

Redwine suggested that the alternative to this policy was charging all students more next year. The administration wanted to avoid this. Redwine noted significant cuts in other areas, including being asked to cut $135,000 from his area of student development.

Gresham occasionally referred to conversations with the president of another Christian university.

“They completely eliminated all institutional aid following students. I think it was six years ago. They didn’t see any change in demand for their two most popular programs, which were the Hollywood film studies program and the contemporary Christian music program. Those stayed the same…They didn’t see any drop-off there,” Gresham said