By Tim Kotowski
Last fall Kenyon’s Board of Trustees approved significant changes approved by the Board of Trustees to the study abroad program. Most of the changes, like allowing students to bypass a language requirement if they can articulate how the experience fits into their overall academic trajectory, enjoyed widespread support. But a change to the Home School Tuition policy has proven more divisive.
Under the old policy, students who wanted to study abroad had to pay only for the cost of their program and an $1,800 study abroad fee to keep their place at Kenyon.
Under Home School Tuition, however, students pay normal Kenyon tuition, which the College then uses to cover program fees. Students receiving financial aid still receive their full aid packages.
The change, said Provost Nayef Samhat, was implemented because “there are a significant set of administrative costs that go into running what I think is an outstanding off-campus studies program, and so one has to find a way to help support those resources.”
In op-eds published in November by the Collegian Asha McAllister ’15 and Joe Walsh ’15, debated whether the change would affect the number of students who elected to study abroad.
McAllister claimed that it would make little difference, since full-tuition students are paying full price for “seven semesters as opposed to eight, which is a little like the difference between ta-MAY-to and ta-MAH-to.” Walsh disagreed, saying students will now be paying “more than their program is worth,” predicting that the change “is going to discourage students from [studying abroad] if the bill gets too high.”
Students weren’t the only ones concerned that Home School Tuition might decrease the number of students participating in study abroad.
“That was something we were worried about too,” said Marne Ausec, director of the Center for Global Engagement, which runs Kenyon’s study abroad program. But until recently, there was little hard evidence to support either side.
The completion of this year’s study abroad application process has revealed some limited answers. According to numbers compiled by Patti Maiorino, the Center for Global Engagement’s operations manager, the number of students expected to study abroad has remained essentially unchanged, rising slightly from 232 in the 2012-13 school year to 237 for the 2013-14 school year. More students are electing to spend a full year abroad, increasing to 34 from last year’s 25.
The year-long Kenyon-Exeter Program, like other Kenyon-sponsored study abroad programs, has always matched Kenyon’s tuition. Next year, a record 24 students will embark on the program, up from the usual range of eight to 18.
Ausec said the tuition change might not have caused the increased interest. She cited a well-attended talk by Professor of English Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky, the Exeter program’s director, held at the beginning of the year as a possible factor in the program’s success.
“If I were paying Kenyon tuition, room and board for my study abroad program, and I were an English major ﾅ I’d choose the Exeter program, which is [a] great value for your money,” Ausec said.
In addition to a higher number of students electing to study abroad for longer, Ausec also said, “I think the quality of applications is a lot better. We’ve had extremely high GPAs this year.”
Students need a minimum 2.5 GPA to study abroad. On the other hand, she noted that the number of students who had to rewrite their essays doubled, from 40 to 80. “We had some real issues with students answering the question,” she said.
Nevertheless, Ausec said she is still unwilling to draw any definite conclusions about the effects of Home School Tuition on students studying abroad. Ausec said that the most “telling piece” of the puzzle, the program’s attrition, or drop rate, isn’t available yet.
“We won’t know that until January, February, by the time next year’s students are actually on their programs,” she said.
In the meantime, Ausec is looking forward to focusing on less contentious issues, such as attracting more science majors and what she calls “a really interesting concept” ﾗ letting second-semester sophomores study abroad.