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Study abroad rates hold strong amid economy woes

Credit: Jennifer Kennedy/Photo Staff Credit: Jennifer Kennedy/Photo Staff Credit: Michelle Liu/Photo Staff Credit: Michelle Liu/Photo Staff

Although numerous education programs have felt the adverse effects of the current economic situation, it appears that study abroad programs for Carnegie Mellon students may still be a feasible and even favorable option.

According to Emily Half, the coordinator of study abroad and international programming at Carnegie Mellon, the Office of International Education has seen “no decline in study abroad numbers.” She noted further that “the 43 sponsored programs offered by the university allow the student to study abroad while paying Carnegie Mellon tuition costs and maintaining all of their institutional, state, and federal aid money.”

Half advised that students who did not have a large financial aid package from Carnegie Mellon might be better off, at least from a financial standpoint, if they applied directly to the university through a third-party adviser, such as IES or SIT, both of which offer independent study abroad programs. These U.S.-based companies can help students search through the various programs being offered, find housing, and have an easier transition period.

A direct application has the advantage in that the student would be able to pay the costs set by the foreign university, which are often much lower than those at Carnegie Mellon.

She explained that “although this option does not allow students to transfer their institutional aid over to the foreign university, they would be able to use their federal and state aid money.”

From this standpoint, according to Half, study abroad could potentially be a money-saving option for many students.
Melissa Deschamps, the director of international education at the Qatar campus, agreed, stating that “because the college provides assistance to the students, they find it easier to travel abroad even though we are currently in an economic recession.”
She pointed out that the Qatar campus “has actually seen in increase in the number of applications we have received. In particular, we have seen an increase in applicants to our summer program and have received over 20 applications, the highest number we’ve seen in recent years.”

Although the costs of the programs themselves have not been overtly affected, many students have been feeling the financial strain associated with the costs of living and travel expenses. Half stated that she knew of at least one student who had been debating about changing his study abroad destination to a place where the U.S. dollar has more value.

According to the Carnegie Mellon study abroad website, approximately 56 percent of the 370 students who chose to study abroad last year attended universities in Europe, a percentage that may drop in the coming year due to the poor exchange rate.
Sruthi Reddy, a sophomore electrical and computer engineering major who is currently studying abroad on the Qatar campus, noted that “the bad economy has definitely been taking its toll on traveling costs; flying has become much more expensive recently.”

It is also possible, according to Half, that there may be some negative effects on the scholarships offered by outside organizations as well as those offered by Carnegie Mellon in the year ahead, although no changes have been confirmed yet.
Despite these additional outside expenses, the guarantee that the tuition costs will be the same if not less than those at Carnegie Mellon is a welcome sign that study abroad is still a feasible option.

Studying abroad could even provide the necessary edge on a student’s résumé when competing for internships and full-time jobs. The recent introduction of the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act of 2009 highlights the premium many officials place on expanding opportunities that allow college students from all backgrounds to gain a global education.

Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) promoted the legislation and study abroad programs in general, stating that “it is important that our country prepare our young people for the challenges of competing in an increasingly globalized marketplace.”

When considering the possibility of increased federal support and the tendency of many foreign universities to have a lower tuition than Carnegie Mellon, it is possible that study abroad programs can provide both a new cultural experience and reduce costs, a definite “win-win situation,” according to Half.