This fall the number of Brown students studying abroad sunk to 199, down from 220 last fall. The University reported a more pronounced decrease in study abroad figures for the spring — 268 students went abroad last semester compared with 366 in the spring of 2008. In light of the downward trend, the University should take measures to encourage student enrollment in study abroad programs. In particular, the University should reverse its policy of charging students full tuition to receive credit for study at considerably less expensive universities abroad.
We've criticized the University's study abroad fees before. Tuition at host universities is often a small fraction of tuition at Brown, and the University collects the difference. The dwindling number of students studying abroad underscores the importance of a change in policy.
In an interview with The Herald, Kendall Brostuen, director of the Office of International
Programs, dismissed concerns that the University's fee structure caused the drop in enrollment. Brostuen offered two other explanations. Neither was persuasive. Brostuen cited the economic downturn as a culprit, but a recent survey by the Forum on Education Abroad found that just as many private colleges reported an increase in enrollment as reported a decrease. Brostuen also defended the fee structure by noting that enrollment in study abroad programs administered by Brown (which have always charged full tuition) has decreased along with enrollment in approved programs (which used to cost a lot less). The fact that enrollment decreased in both areas doesn't prove much. Under the old policy, enrollment in approved programs might have increased dramatically in a recession.
The flat rates are supposedly meant to discourage students from letting economic considerations affect their academic decisions. If studying abroad and studying at Brown cost the same, academic criteria alone will guide students' choices about where to study. We're more inclined to believe that the University has let an economic consideration — namely, the opportunity to reap thousands of dollars from students — cloud its better judgment. The University should address concerns that its study abroad fees are profitdriven by using the proceeds to endow more undergraduate scholarships.
Whatever the University's true motives are, we strongly disagree with its stated rationale. We believe that students should be able to consider the costs of alternative courses of study, particularly during the worst recession since the Great Depression. College students who graduate in a recession have substantially lower lifetime earnings and worse employment prospects than those who graduate in rosier times. An extra $15,000 in loans is an especially pressing concern for this year's upperclassmen.
If the University truly believes that a Brown education is worth the price, it should be able to compete with cheaper colleges in other countries. The University should view the elimination of study abroad fees as a boon to its internationalization efforts and a vote of confidence that the value of a semester on campus justifies the expense.
Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to editorials(at)browndailyherald.com.