Where Does Study Abroad Money Go?

If a Claremont McKenna College student chooses to study at the approved Mongolia program, run through the School of International Training, the cost of the program is $14,540. The cost of the Pomona College program in Budapest, Hungary, run through St. Olaf College, is $9,482 for one semester. The cost of Middlebury Schools Abroad’s program in Paris, which is an approved program for CMC, Pomona, Scripps College, and Harvey Mudd College, is $12,900.

But that’s not how much students at the 5Cs pay to go abroad. Students are charged full semester tuition and, for most programs, full room and board. In exchange, the student is then enrolled in the program and provided a living stipend to cover meals and housing. In some cases, the student receives a contribution toward airfare, a visa, and passport expenses.

Pomona’s tuition is $20,560 per semester for the 2012-2013 academic year, not including residence fees and student fees. This is $11,078 more than what St. Olaf charges for its Hungary program, showing a discrepancy in the cost of one semester’s tuition at one of the 5Cs and the cost of a study abroad program.

In addition, students are charged in entirety for room and board, including Board Plus (“Flex”) and an entire meal plan of 16 meals per week. Students cannot choose a smaller meal plan, according to the letter sent to accepted study abroad applicants from the Pomona Office of Study Abroad (OSA). At Pomona, full room and board totaled $6,763 for the fall semester, but students often received a significantly smaller stipend for living abroad.

“It does seem peculiar that students should be charged for Flex when they are not on campus,” said Eddie Gonzalez PO ’14, who studied abroad in Spain last fall.

But study abroad is not exactly a moneymaker for Pomona.

“Pomona is not making a lot of money off study abroad,” said Rhoda Borcherding, Director of the OSA at Pomona.

Borcherding emphasized that some programs cost more than others, so the discrepancy in charges helps to even out the inequity and ensure equal access for students on financial aid.

For the 2012-2013 fiscal year, study abroad was a $4.25 million expense on Pomona’s operating budget. This aggregate number, including all costs associated with study abroad, is then paid for with revenue money, which is made up of tuition, room and board fees, gifts, grants, endowment payout, and other sources of income.

“We don’t attach one person’s tuition to one person’s study abroad experience,” said Karen Sisson, Treasurer and Vice President of Pomona College. “It just goes into one line item.”

In other words, the costs for students studying abroad are treated as if those students were still studying and living on campus. Tuition, room, and board all enter into one item on the revenue portion of the operating budget under “student income,” and financial aid is calculated as if the student were to remain on campus. Sisson said she anticipates that this provision may be exactly what alarms some students.

“I know it’s not satisfying for someone who is thinking, ‘Gee, I could actually pay less if I did this on my own,’ but it is sort of the whole philosophy of what Pomona is based on […] that we provide many different experiences and each student can take advantage of those experiences or not,” she said.

According to Sisson, the costs go into a communal pool that helps pay for all students to obtain the “holistic education” that Pomona aims to provide. This is reflected in many of the other services that Pomona offers. Sisson explained that a student who participates in athletic teams is not charged more than a student who does not, although the costs involved in maintaining the athletic program are substantial. Likewise, students who study chemistry rather than English are not charged more money, despite the fact that the students are using lab facilities and equipment that cost the school large sums of money each year.

Study abroad is part of this holistic education, and Pomona ensures that no program is too expensive for any student to enjoy by allowing for the availability of financial aid.

Sisson disparaged the mindset that focuses only on fees, which would create an environment in which each person pays only for what they directly use. According to Sisson, when students only pay for what they directly use, Pomona students would not be able to take advantage of the “kaleidoscope of opportunities” that the school offers.

“I think it’s a culture we’ve gotten to, where we want to see exactly what we are paying for, and we lose that sense of being a community, that there are a number of things that are important, that we need to support them all even if [we] personally don’t use them,” Sisson said.

She also pointed to the fact that Pomona gives credit for approved programs, and the cost of a Pomona tuition pays for the credit earned abroad.

“You would pay for a course here in Claremont, and we are giving you the same credit,” Sisson said.

Sisson, who graduated from Pomona in 1979, went abroad herself to Germany in her junior year.

“For me, personally, that was one of the transformative experiences of my whole education. I was a student on aid, and I would have never been able to do that, and the fact that I could pay the same tuition and have my aid go toward my time in Germany for four months was amazing,” she said.

Many liberal arts schools, like Swarthmore, treat study abroad financing in an analogous fashion; however, there are several schools that do not. Students at Amherst College and Middlebury College only pay for the fees of the study abroad institution they attend. At Williams College, students pay the fees of the abroad institution they attend and an additional $1,500 study-away fee to Williams. These schools still provide financial aid that covers most approved programs, although there are exceptions.

According to Jelani Williams, a Middlebury student who works in financial aid, aid is provided “only if it is a Middlebury School or partner school, otherwise it is extremely hard to receive.” (Middlebury has schools or partner schools in 37 cities in 16 countries, while Pomona offers students a choice between 49 programs in 32 countries.)

CMC had a similar system to Middlebury until 2010. Previously, students were charged only the cost of the program they attended. Now, CMC charges the same as on-campus fees. In return, students are enrolled in the institution abroad and are given a room and board allowance, as well as an allowance for plane travel.

“When I was here, President David Alexander used to say, ‘There is only one price for a Pomona education,’” Sisson said. “Again, it’s not satisfying if you are someone who is really looking at dollars and cents and saying, ‘I could have done this less expensively,’ but it is consistent with the values of a Pomona education.”

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