To study abroad for a semester at the St. Louis University in Madrid, Spain, tuition costs are $9,900. But a sophomore planning to study abroad there next fall would pay tuition to the University of Richmond, which amounts to about $18,000 for a semester. So where does the other $8,100 go?
Michele Cox, director of international programs, said this money "basically goes into the university's operating costs." When students study abroad, they are still members of the community, she said, and certain offices are still working for them.
For some study abroad institutions, tuition costs are significantly less than those of Richmond. For example, tuition at the Denmark International Study Program for next fall costs $12,070. At the University of Melbourne in Australia, tuition fees for an international student are $7,904 for a semester. Regardless of the costs, students studying abroad through one of Richmond's programs pay full Richmond tuition.
Dianna Gallagher, a junior who studied at Macquarie University in Australia last fall, said that living costs were about $50 more a week than those at Richmond and tuition was about $10,000 at Macquarie.
"I think it was a rip-off," she said.
Cox compared the use of standard tuition rates for students abroad and here to differences in education costs within Richmond. Students in the sciences cost more to educate than students in the arts, she said, but Richmond charges the same tuition rate for all its students.
The university's operating budget depends on student enrollment, Cox said, so if students left to study abroad and did not pay Richmond tuition, there would have to be a tuition increase for everyone else to compensate for this loss.
Cox also said financial aid plays a significant role in the reasoning. A Richmond financial aid package is applicable when a student studies abroad through one of the university programs. This policy "provides equal opportunity for students," Cox said. "It levels the playing field."
Michelle Bhatta, assistant director of financial aid, said if students were to pay tuition directly to their host schools, their financial aid packages could not apply because it would need to be based on different tuition costs.
If the cost of studying abroad is higher than studying at Richmond, Bhatta said, the financial aid office would help meet additional costs. Allowances from the Office of International Education help cover these costs, but if there is still a gap, the financial aid office would give need-based grants, she said. This additional aid would be made available to go toward room and board, airfare, books and other living expenses.
For many of the study abroad programs, the Office of International Education distributes several allowances to help decrease these types of expenses, Cox said.
Depending on the program, this can include a travel allowance, a living allowance and payment of academic excursions and orientation programs, she said, and there are scholarships available ranging from $500 to $5,000.
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Last semester, students studying at a new program in Barcelona informed Cox that the living costs were very high, she said.
The Office of International Education then approved a $700 living allowance for students studying in Barcelona, she said, and it reimbursed those who studied there last fall.
"We can't always accommodate students' requests," she said, "but when there's good rationale and good reason, we can try to make changes."
The office is considering covering the cost of students' international health insurances and visas or residence permits, Cox said. She hopes to know whether it will by early March, she said. If it is approved, it would apply for students studying abroad beginning next fall.
Cox said she did not receive many complaints about tuition costs, but some parents, students and faculty have inquired about the tuition policy. When she explained the reasoning, she said they usually understood.
Junior Julie Rega, who studied abroad last fall in Ferrara, Italy, said the university should be able to make a plan that would account for providing financial aid and would also lower the costs of studying abroad.
Other universities that have the same tuition policies for study abroad programs include Allegheny College, University of Rochester, Georgetown University, Brandeis University and University of Pennsylvania, Cox said.
Bhatta said that Richmond's tuition policy is appropriate because "the whole university is involved in a student studying abroad." Faculty members determine if a student is eligible to study abroad, analyze the abroad institutions and transfer a student's transcript, she said.
If students are approved to study abroad at a university that is not already offered through Richmond, Cox said, they pay tuition directly to the host institution and pay an administrative fee to Richmond. Financial aid does not apply to these programs, she said, but federal aid can be applied if it is approved.
Cox, who has worked in the Office of International Education for 16 years, said she did not think the tuition policy for study abroad students would change.
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