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Students abroad manage financial challenges while paying home tuition

Students, admins offer diverging narratives on study abroad options for students on financial aid

Apart from selecting classes and an exotic location, some students studying abroad have to consider the financial burden of living in an unfamiliar country for a semester or year.

Brown’s study abroad financial policy aims to eliminate cost as a factor in students’ decisions on where to study. But the high costs of flights and housing that come with certain study-away programs make it difficult for students to choose their destinations based solely on the academic and social experience.

Since 2008, students studying abroad have been subject to the home school tuition policy, which requires them to pay Brown tuition regardless of the cost of the program. The Corporation implemented the policy change to make study abroad more “transparent,” according to the University’s website.

“We want to make certain that students are choosing courses based on which program best fits them academically,” said Kendall Brostuen, director of the Office of International Programs. “What we wanted to avoid was students choosing programs because they happened to be the cheapest programs.”

When a student studies abroad, the Office of Financial Aid uses the same method to calculate student aid packages as it does when the student is at Brown. A student’s family contribution does not change, but the financial aid awarded by the University may decrease if the cost of the non-tuition costs associated with the program are lower. The program’s cost is determined by summing tuition fees with indirect expenses such as airfare, books and housing.

But financial aid does not increase if the program’s cost is greater than Brown’s. In this case, students are expected to seek additional loans or apply for outside scholarships. Some study abroad programs offer their own scholarships to help students pay for housing and flights.

“Since my program costs came out to more than a normal semester here at Brown, it would have been great if my aid had been adjusted accordingly,” said Crystal Avila ’16, who studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain. Since Brown does not adjust aid to make up for higher program costs, Avila had to take out loans to pay for the difference, she added.

The implementation of the home tuition policy coincided with the creation of a new, expanded financial aid policy in 2008, said Jim Tilton, director of financial aid. Under the policy change, students whose families’ earn less than $100,000 per year no longer have loans as part of their financial aid packages, and students with family incomes less than $60,000 are not expected to contribute to the cost of tuition.

Both of these changes allowed more students on financial aid to study abroad, Tilton said. The number of students receiving financial aid who studied away increased by just over 7 percent from 168 in the academic year 2007-08 to 180 in 2014-15, he said. This increase occurred despite an overall decrease in students studying abroad, falling from 565 students in 2007-08 to 398 students last year.

Brostuen said that, in his experience, students have been able to study in the program of their choice regardless of the city’s cost of living. Cities such as London, Stockholm and Tokyo have traditionally been among the more expensive cities in which to study abroad, he added.

“On the whole, Brown is very generous in terms of its financial aid policy in the sense that 100 percent of the scholarship aid” follows students abroad, he said.

But Avila said students do not always have the flexibility to go to the city of their choice. “I myself crossed Stockholm off my list of options after hearing how high living costs are there,” she said. “I’m sure some students are discouraged from some programs due to higher living or housing costs.”

Nora Hakizimana ’16 expressed frustration that she had to pay Brown tuition even though her program in Brussels was significantly cheaper than Brown. “It absolutely makes no sense,” she said, adding that she had hoped to use the difference in tuition to pay for other things like travel, but ended up having to search for outside scholarships for those funds.

“I studied abroad in Barcelona and the housing option was a lot more expensive than a normal semester here,” Avila said. “Admittedly, our living arrangements were a lot more luxurious than at Brown, but if given the option, I would have opted for cheaper accommodation.” Avila added that the euro was stronger than the dollar when she studied abroad, so buying clothes and eating out was also noticeably more expensive.

Mary Nguyen ’17, who will be part of next semester’s International Honors Program, which takes students to at least three different countries in one semester, also said unavoidable costs can be steep. “We get a week of spring break and whereas normally the cheaper option would be to just stay at Brown, they are not going to provide me housing for that one week,” she said. “I have to go out and make my own plans, which can turn out to be expensive.”

Amy Sit ’16, who was part of the IHP, said she ended up spending more while abroad than she would have during a normal semester at Brown. The airfare associated with IHP in particular increased the cost of going abroad significantly, she said.

Traveling outside of one’s program while abroad also increases the cost of studying away, Nguyen said.

The cost of studying abroad in Europe really depends on what you want to do while you are there, Hakizimana said, adding that one of her goals was to see as much of Europe as possible. Hakizimana traveled to 23 cities with the help of scholarships from both the government and her study abroad program.

Nguyen said that despite the high cost of IHP, she ended up deciding on the program because she knew she could take out additional loans. “I know for others, though, that wouldn’t be the case. … They might not have as much flexibility to do that,” she said.

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