Priced like a privilege edition

Does study abroad have an access problem?

The Costs of Education Abroad

The mother on the other end of the line was upset. If she had realized the full cost, she told Matthew G. Pucciarelli, the associate provost of global programs at St. John’s University, in New York, she would never have allowed her daughter to study abroad. It was simply too much for her family to afford.

But, the woman added, her daughter was having the time of her life. Pucciarelli told me:

“She was conflicted. She was angry, but she was grateful, too, because her daughter was getting to have this experience.”

I met Pucciarelli last month at the Association of International Education Administrators conference, and ever since, I’ve been mulling his dilemma. I suspect almost everyone reading these words believes that there is deep value in studying overseas. But going abroad isn’t cheap. Are we at the risk of pricing out less wealthy students?

No national data is collected on education abroad by income, but international educators consistently rank cost and lack of funding for students among their greatest concerns. Only managing risk was a bigger worry for those who responded to the most-recent survey by the Forum on Education Abroad.

Study-abroad participants have long been wealthy and white (and women). But it’s hard not to ignore the disparity in backgrounds between the students who go overseas and those who are in college classrooms today. If our students are increasingly black and Hispanic, low income, and the first in their families to go to college, shouldn’t that also be the case for education abroad?

Thomas Bogenschild, executive director of global education at the University of Oregon, told me he wants all students to experience different countries and cultures. He tries to be upfront about costs and to include less-expensive alternatives in his program mix. He encourages students to think carefully about how international study will fit into their academic programs, so that they don’t delay completing their degree and incur additional expense.

But Bogenschild wrestles with the ethics of saddling them with debt. Is he at all apprehensive, I asked, that his caution could end up dissuading some students from going overseas? He said:

“I worry about recruiting students to go abroad who can’t afford it.”

At St. John’s, one solution has been to offer grants, of up to $6,000, for students on one of the university’s study-abroad programs, in Paris, Rome, and Limerick, Ireland. The University of Washington, too, has sought to provide scholarships to cut the costs of overseas study.

Last year, Washington awarded $1.1 million in aid – $2,500 grants for students going abroad for an academic quarter or less and $4,000 for those on longer-term programs. Still, that’s only a downpayment; even the university’s most affordable study options cost upwards of $3,000.

About 425 of the 2,100 Washington students who studied abroad in 2017-18, and 25 percent of Pell Grant-eligible applicants, received scholarships, more than double the number of awards the year before. Jeffrey Riedinger, the vice provost of global affairs, is trying to raise money to expand the scholarship program.

Money alone, of course, will not erase the inequities. Some students don’t go overseas because of work or family obligations. Others don’t think a global experience matters to their studies or their career. And others look at the education-abroad brochures and think, Nope, there’s no one here who looks like me.

Still, colleges need to decide: Is study abroad valuable for all, or is it just a privilege for a few? Right now, it’s too often priced like a privilege.

If you’re at a college or education-abroad provider, what are you doing to increase access? I know this is an issue many people feel passionately about – we want to hear your strategies. Tweet me @karinfischer or email me at


  • NAFSA: Association of International Educators has pledged $90,000 to the Fund for Education Abroad to support a new scholarship program to help black undergraduates study abroad. The NAFSA Tamara H. Bryant Memorial Scholarship is the result of an endowment set up by Bryant, a refugee who came to the U.S. from Burma.

Warning Signs

I’ve been giving some more thought to the new Canadian international enrollment figures I told you about last week. I think they should give American colleges heartburn – for two different reasons:

The number of Indian students in Canada shot up by 40 percent to overtake China as the top source of international students for Canadian universities. That’s almost certainly coming at the expense of the United States (and the UK). Canada has been marketing itself based on cost, quality, and safety, as well touting programs that lead to post-graduation work opportunities, as Elizabeth Redden of Inside Higher Ed noted:

The other reason for concern is more counterintuitive: India pushed past China in part because of the latter country’s sluggish showing. The Chinese student growth rate in Canada was an anemic 2 percent, and it very much mirrors the trend in the U.S. Is this yet more evidence of a cooling Chinese market for study abroad?

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Around the Globe

The Chinese government used DNA samples from a prominent Yale scientist to build a vast surveillance database. The professor said he thought his Chinese counterparts were acting within scientific norms.

China’s crackdown on Uighur intellectuals is an “eliticide,” this researcher argues.

A downside to study abroad: The carbon footprint for global student mobility equals the annual emissions of Tunisia, according to a new study.

Penn State University, the Forum on Education Abroad, and the American Councils for International Education are collaborating on a large-scale research project to explore the longitudinal effects of language learning and study abroad on career outcomes.

A college lost its language programs. Can three professors save Spanish?

A CIA veteran writes that foreign governments have long used their citizens who study in the U.S. to gather intelligence.

Moody’s is warning that several Canadian universities could be exposed to credit risk if China restricts its students from studying there amid tensions between the two countries.

Now That’s an Understatement

Bucknell University announced it would become the latest college to go test-optional. But the policy does not extend to international students, who still must submit SAT or ACT scores to the Pennsylvania college to help with credential verification. The news sparked this tweet from a college counselor in Shanghai:

I think many of us would agree with his test-prep-on-steroids assessment of China and a number of other countries. Given the cramming culture that exists abroad, it’s not always clear what a high standardized test score tells us about an international applicant’s ability to do well in college, and concerns about cheating and fraud in the system are well-documented. Yet, I’ve been spending some time in college admissions offices, and I know that test scores provide an important check for readers when they’re unfamiliar with a high school or a curriculum – which is often the case for international applicants.

So, what’s the answer here? How much weight should be given to standardized tests in international admissions? Should colleges accept alternatives to the SAT and ACT, like the gaokao, as several U.S. institutions have done?

If you’ve got thoughts, let me know. I plan to return to this topic in a future issue.

And finally…

They’re the main negotiators trying to bring the end to the Afghan war. And the representatives of Afghanistan, the United States, and the Taliban all were shaped as young men by study abroad, two on exchange programs in the U.S. and at the American University of Beirut and the third at a military school in India. Spending time in different countries and cultures helped mold their principles and personalities, this New York Times story suggests.

Meanwhile, the folks at Intead, a global higher-education marketing firm, have compiled charts of world leaders and business executives who have studied abroad. Spending time overseas isn’t guaranteed to make you a president or CEO, but the lists are fun to peruse!

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