Study abroad numbers down, college seeks solution

Psychology professor Mona Ibrahim recently flew to southern Turkey to visit the village of Urfa, the birthplace of the prophet Abraham, to establish connections and finish plans for her summer school abroad program, “Egypt and Turkey: Cross-Cultural Perspectives.”

The trip to Turkey will be the third that she and her husband, computer science professor Ahmed Kamel, have dedicated to planning and organizing a summer school abroad program for Concordia students. Kamel is leading a mathematics and computer science summer school abroad program to the same locations. However, Ibrahim and Kamel will not be implementing their program in which they have invested so much time and energy, at least not this year.

Concordia’s Office of Global Education has cancelled eight programs of the 32 approved exploration seminars, May seminars, summer school abroad programs and summer field studies programs this year, including Ibrahim’s and Kamel’s.
These cancellations were the result of low enrollment of students in those programs. Global education numbers are down eight to nine percent from a year ago, largely due to the economic recession. In turn, the college administration is examining possible avenues to make global education programs more accessible to students in a slow economy.

Junior Anna Wacholz was signed up for Ibrahim and Kamel’s summer school abroad program and was excited about spending the month of May exploring Egypt and Turkey, countries she has never visited. Then Wacholz received an e-mail in December informing her of what she had feared—the trip had been cancelled, as three of the six students signed up unexpectedly withdrew.

“I know there was a risk of that occurring,” Wacholz said, “but I was still disappointed. I don’t know why there was little interest…if it was the price of the seminar, or if it was because there were two seminars offered through the psychology department.”

Although a relatively high number of programs have been cancelled, Per Anderson, associate dean for global learning and director of global education, said it is not indicative of numbers overall, since this year’s 32 approved programs is higher than average. Last year, 24 programs were offered and in 2007-08, there were 27. For the 2010-2011 academic year, 25 programs have been approved.

“We’ve cancelled eight seminars. But it’s important to put that number in the context that this year we had 32 seminars, so faculty energy and faculty interest is really up there,” Anderson said. “That’s a very ambitious number of seminars to fill.”

Overall numbers are estimated to be down between eight and nine percent from last year, although final counts are not yet available for some programs.
Anderson added that this year’s student global education participation numbers are higher than the Office of Global Education expected.

“Yes, the recession has hurt our numbers this year and last year, but I would say not as dramatically as we feared,” he said. “I think we’re pleased that our numbers are as strong as they are given how challenging things are, and I think that does tell us that students see the value of study abroad, as hard as it can sometimes be on families.”

Anderson said he has also seen students cancel participation in a global education program for financial reasons this year, but it is something the Office of Global Education experiences annually.

“We had one student cancel participation in a semester program because of family hardship due to the economy, a lost job in the family,” Anderson said. “We haven’t seen as much as we might as expect.”

Stacy Rodlund, global education operations manager, agrees.

“Looking at the students that have cancelled so far this year, I would say it’s a mixture of personal reasons and financial reasons,” she said, “which we do see every single year.”

The number of students who have withdrawn for financial reasons is unfeasible to estimate, as students are not required to disclose their reasons for cancellation to the Office of Global Education.

The continuing challenge with the affordability of global education programs for students has spurred the Office of Global Education and Concordia’s administration and faculty to work together to plan and implement new changes that would make it easier for students to study abroad. It’s no secret that Concordia emphasizes global awareness and citizenship, and Anderson believes that study abroad is crucial to fulfilling the goal of influencing the affairs of the world.

“The college is trying to consistently communicate to our students that study away is integral to the Concordia experience and we hope they will plan for it; we hope our faculty are talking it up,” Anderson said. “We think it’s part of the culture of the college.”

While Concordia remains one of the top institutions of its kind in the category of estimated percentage of students studying abroad (Concordia is ranked 18th with 74.8 percent of students studying abroad, according to a 2008 Open Doors survey), a couple of changes to Concordia’s structure that would make it financially easier for students to study abroad are being discussed by the college.

One change recently proposed and currently being discussed in Faculty Senate is a program called Passport. According to Mark Krejci, provost and dean of the college, Passport is an optional developmental progression for Concordia students that parallels the curriculum and prepares students for study abroad and global citizenship after graduation.

Passport includes first-year advising enhancements, a four-year career development program, and LeadNow participation. Concordia students who complete the program would earn a voucher to be used for a study abroad opportunity. Passport would aid students in understanding the impact of global education before their travel experience and reduce the travel cost for the student.

“We want you in the world—outside of campus, outside the country, really experiencing the world,” Krejci said.

Passport is currently under review and Faculty Senate hopes to reach a resolution on the specific details of Passport by this spring or early next fall. Krejci said the earliest Passport would be fully implemented is the fall of 2011, although elements may be brought in as early as next year as a pilot phase.

Another suggestion to make global education more affordable for students is a change to the Concordia’s academic calendar by adding a January term (J-term) session that would allow students to complete a global education program in between semesters. Anderson said the addition of a J-term could possibly cut costs by up to 30 percent because the course credit fee would already be covered by tuition, and students would not have to pay for an additional course.

However, Krejci said that the J-term possibility is merely speculative right now, as changing the calendar is a major undertaking.

Anderson hopes these possible changes will make global education more accessible for students.

“Some of these big changes, like Passport and a proposed calendar change, are the kind of structural changes that will make study away a much more normal part of the Concordia experience,” he said.

Wacholz had her deposit refunded and is not participating in a global education program this year. She thought about going on the dietetics May seminar, “Historic Lifestyles in Europe,” but decided to save her money for the Concordia Band’s tour in Japan in May 2011 since she has already visited Europe.

“Hopefully, it’ll work out for the best,” Wacholz said. “I still wish I was going.”

Ibrahim and Kamel are disappointed they won’t be able to travel with students this summer, but they hope to do so next year. Ibrahim is optimistic that Passport will make study abroad more affordable for students.

“I think it would be great,” she said. “Study abroad is a wonderful learning opportunity that offers so much in terms of growth and I hope plans like Passport make programs more accessible for students.”

Kamel is more hesitant.

“I’m going to take a wait-and-see approach,” he said.

Wacholz said she thinks Passport would put a greater focus on global education and would be an incentive for Concordia students to travel abroad, as well as attract new students to the college.

“Cost gets in their way of going on a seminar,” she said. “It’s a lot of money to spend in a month.”

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