Several juniors back from their fall semester abroad have complained that it was unfair and unnecessary that they were charged the University of Richmond's full semester tuition of nearly $20,000 when the schools they attended were substantially less expensive.
Richmond College student Michael Padovano studied abroad at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. The university is one of the oldest in Europe and costs European citizens 5,000 euros -- about $6,400 -- a semester. Some students from other American schools in his program did not have to pay their home institutions' tuition, he said.
"These kids didn't go to random little schools," he said. "There was a girl from Harvard, two kids from the University of North Carolina, a girl from the University of Virginia and a bunch of students from the University of Illinois."
Padovano recalled a conversation one day among the students from Richmond and other American schools: "When we told them what we were paying to be there they were shocked. They didn't understand it.
"I still don't understand it," Padovano said.
Mir Subjally, also a Richmond College student, spent the fall at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand.
"People actually laughed at us when we said we were paying $20,000," he said.
While some American schools do allow their students to pay tuition to the institutions abroad, schools such as Bucknell University and the University of Pennsylvania share Richmond's policy, said Michele Cox, Richmond's director of study abroad.
"We've been charging home tuition for Richmond study abroad programs during the semester for over a decade," she said. "Our philosophy is that Richmond students are still getting a Richmond degree.
"They all have academic advising, the registrar's office, the financial aid office, student accounts, our office and all of the faculty; everyone is still here. The student remains a student here and they're ultimately getting their diploma from the University of Richmond."
Uliana Gabara, Richmond's dean of international education, said she thought people forgot that studying abroad was part of the Richmond education, she said.
"We're not exporting students and saying, 'Go, my child, and do whatever,'" she said, adding that students were still being offered guidance throughout the process from Richmond faculty and staff.
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Although he was getting credit toward his Richmond degree, Padovano did not think Jagiellonian was of the same caliber as Richmond, he said. Aside from his Polish homework, which took him about 40 minutes per night, he was never assigned anything more than reading in his classes, he said.
"In one of my classes, my teacher canceled over half of our scheduled meetings," he said, "I mean, how much could I have possibly learned?"
The Study Abroad Office stresses to students that the schools they will be attending abroad will not be the same as Richmond, Cox said. If students were looking for a place exactly like Richmond, they needed to re-evaluate studying abroad, she said.
"Part of going abroad is challenging preconceived notions of what it means to have a university education and discovering that people can learn in places with a different structure," she said. "We make that very clear, and maybe students don't hear that during orientation and advising."
But most students do not complain about the structures of foreign universities. More complaints have been directed toward Richmond's policies regarding allowances and reimbursements.
Richmond offers travel and living allowances based on where a student is studying. Students going to Central America receive a $600 travel allowance, while those going to Russia receive a $900 allowance.
According to the Study Abroad Handbook, these allowances are meant to help with, not cover, the cost of traveling and, in some cases, living. They are applied as credits to student accounts.
Other reimbursements include $200 for a gym membership, visa and registration fees, and up to $500 for "academic and cultural excursions sponsored by the host institution." Excursions have to be pre-approved by the Study Abroad Office to qualify for reimbursement.
Trips have been the cause of some unrest among students. Padovano said he thought the school should make the $500 more accessible to students.
"Even if you're not going on a school-sponsored study trip, you're still going to learn a lot from traveling," he said. "I was planning a four-day trip to Paris, and granted this is a stretch, but considering the fact that I'm a French minor, going to Paris would have given me an opportunity to practice my language skills and see the culture that I've been learning about for the last eight years.
"I understand that they might not think I'm going to go to museums, but when you're traveling you want to see everything. I think they're under the impression that when you're traveling, you're just traveling to party in a different city."
Some host institutions provide more excursion opportunities than others do, Cox said. In the past, the study abroad office staff has approved research-related trips on top of the school-sponsored excursions, she said.
Jagiellonian only offered one excursion, a trip to Warsaw, which qualified for reimbursement, Padovano said. He also went on an eight-day trip to the Baltic States, but the cost of the trip was already included in the $6,391 tuition payment to Jagiellonian, he said. He was therefore unable to use the rest of the $500 stipend.
Students at Thammasat were faced with the same problem.
"Our school didn't offer up to $500 in trips," Subjally said. "One weekend, our school took us to this boxing camp, so the stipend covered that, but that was it."
Just like all tuition dollars, the cost difference between Richmond and host institutions goes back into Richmond's operating costs, Cox said.
"It helps us to provide scholarships and reimbursements," she said. "The university still has to operate while its students are gone.
"Right now we have about 360 abroad applicants from a sophomore class of 718 students. The university still has to operate while 50 percent of its juniors are gone. It doesn't just shut down."
Despite complaints, students have said they would love the chance to go abroad again.
"It's hard to complain about vacation," said Jay Hoban, a Richmond College student who studied at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.
Subjally said his time in Thailand was worth it. Courtney McLaren, a Westhampton College student who studied with him at Thammasat, agreed.
"It was worth it," she said, "but we'd still be saying it was worth it if it cost $10,000."
Contact reporter Guv Callahan at email@example.com
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