Policy Change to Study Away Costs Causes Concern


Haley Nievers

College junior Hannah Combe visits Parliament and Big Ben as a part of the Oberlin in London program, one of the most popular study abroad options among students. Oberlin students are currently working against a new study abroad policy set in place for next semester, where program costs will be raised to equal College tuition.

Julia Herbst, Staff Writer

This week, members of Oberlin Students Unite presented a petition with over 750 signatures to College trustees, voicing discontent with the administration’s decision to change tuition costs for study abroad beginning next academic year. Oberlin Students Unite is working to put this issue on the agenda for the Board of Trustees meeting in June, and possibly to present directly to the trustees at that time.

“We feel like people here agree on so much but too often we just don’t get together and actually do something about it,” said College junior and co-founder of Oberlin Students Unite Jack Streich-Kest. “This study abroad thing is a perfect example [of] that. We put so little work in to get those signatures. It just happened because everyone is in agreement about this.”

Oberlin Students Unite was founded in February by Streich-Kest and College senior Max Zahn out of frustration at what they felt was a lack of cohesive opposition by the student body to conservative speakers on campus. The group said the changed study abroad policy was formulated without student input and might preclude many students from studying abroad due the expense.

Under the current policy, students who go abroad under an approved program pay the costs of tuition, room and board of the program (which is often less than Oberlin’s tuition) and a $2,000 fee to Oberlin. This policy ends up costing the College substantially.

“If we have roughly 300 students that go abroad every year, those students are not paying [Oberlin’s] tuition and if they choose approved programs, then we allow them to take merit scholarships and need-based financial aid,” said Associate Dean of Studies and Director of Programs for International Study Ellen Sayles. “[Because of this,] study abroad is costly to the institution in a number of ways, especially in these times of economic difficulties.”

Beginning in the fall, students who study away will be charged the equivalent Oberlin’s tuition, in addition to room and board costs with the program that they attend. According to Sayles, the change in tuition is designed not to affect students receiving aid negatively.

“One problem with the addition of the study away fee around five years ago was that … the fee affected students differently depending on income level,” said Sayles. “We’ve been trying to reach out to students to make sure that they understand how [the change in policy] affects them. We’ve held workshops, info sessions and [distributed] a more detailed info sheet. I’ve also been reaching out to groups that might be more affected [by this change like] Bonner and Posse students. It’s not a change that should negatively influence students that need aid.”

If the overall cost of study abroad is less than the cost of remaining on campus, then need-based aid is reduced. Therefore students might have to take out a larger loan under the currently policy than under the new system, in which the overall cost might be greater but students would also be receiving more aid.

Sayles studied how other colleges similar to Oberlin charge students to study abroad and found that adopting this model would make Oberlin’s policy more similar to that of many peer institutions.

“I looked at 13 peer liberal arts schools [including Oberlin]. … Two in addition to Oberlin [currently] charged the program tuition, room and board. Seven of the schools charged either their own tuition, plus program room and board or charged their own comprehensive fee. The remaining three schools had a blended model in which the majority of their programs were charged their own tuition, room and board but some were charged the program tuition, room and board.”

In the letter they submitted to trustees along with the petition, Streich-Kest and Zahn outlined proposed changes to the policy: “Over the course of this campaign it has become clear to us, the authors of this petition, that a simple return to the old policy would have negative consequences for many high-need students. In light of this we would like to propose some solutions.

“These solutions come solely from us and do not necessarily reflect the views of the petition signers, however they are written in response to the concerns expressed in the petition as well other grievances heard throughout the petition process. … Our proposal is a variation of the old policy. Under our policy the mandatory $2,000 fee would be readjusted to a larger sliding scale fee. This sliding scale would allow high need students to pay no (or very minimal) additional fees. In return the College would make up these losses with an increased fee on students who can afford it.”

In addition, they hope that the College will take into account other fees that arise from studying abroad such as traveling costs and loss of work-study income, which they believe to be financial barriers preventing many students from going abroad.

One of the main critiques that students have of the new system is the lack of student involvement in the decision making process.

“I think we were bothered by the fact that the new policy was voted on by the trustees last summer and I just feel like the news trickled out slowly and was almost [a] rumor for a while,” said college senior Dan Rosenfeld, member of Oberlin Students Unite, who traveled abroad to Central America, Cuba and Mexico last year. “There was no forum and it didn’t seem like they were offering justifications to the student body, so we felt like it would be good to highlight and address [the issue].”

For Zahn, the problem goes beyond the study abroad issue.

“I think it’s interesting because a large part of the rationale for this policy is that [the College] needs to raise revenue because apparently they’re having difficult financial times. But the idea behind that is that they don’t want to make decisions that are adverse to the student experience at Oberlin: They don’t want to cut services; they don’t want to cut faculty; they don’t want to cut staff. So they see this as a way of filling those gaps,” said Zahn. “It’s a very interesting rationale if then you’re not consulting the students about what they want. … So the issue here is certainly the study abroad policy, [but] the bigger issue is how could this happen without student involvement?”

Sayles concurs that student voices are important in this process.

“I support students in wanting to express opinions. Unfortunately it’s a complicated situation that affects students differently and there has been some incorrect info, [but] they’ve been very responsive to me when I’ve tried to work to correct that info. I want to make sure that they feel they’ve been listened to and make sure they have the right information.”

Zahn agrees that collaboration on this issue is key.

“We want this to be the least oppositional [it] takes to get change on the issue,” said Zahn. “We look forward to working with the administration to redraw this policy.”