With summer fast approaching, students will spend their time going home and visiting friends, working and saving money or furthering their education by studying abroad. But how has the continuing economic recession affected the study abroad program at George Mason University?
“We do a good job of keeping our costs down,” said Kevin Stoy, marketing coordinator for the Center for Global Education. “I think it’s more perception than anything. When there’s a recession and the economy is struggling, people tend to think [studying] abroad is a luxury and less of a necessity, which we think is a huge mistake. I don’t feel that because the economy is struggling our costs have gone up.”
What have affected the study abroad program costs, however, are international events.
“I’ve been in study abroad for 25 years now,” said Mary Arnold, general manager for the Center for Global Education. “There [are] always ups and downs with pricing and expenses. They often correspond to gas prices because airline tickets go up, and the rise and fall of the dollar effects our pricing a lot.”
The Mason study abroad program does its best to keep costs to a minimum by avoiding third parties and spreading the price out.
Arnold said that they try to manage the students’ expectations of service, like the quality of hotels, meals and academic experience abroad with the “need to keep things as [inexpensive] as possible.”
One problem facing the study abroad program is a lack of student involvement. The fewer students who travel, the more costly it can be for individual students.
“Students are looking at it as more of a luxury and not looking [into] study abroad as much,” Arnold said. “That raises the prices because then we have fewer students to spread out the cost on the ground.”
The average scholarship for traveling abroad is anywhere from $500 to $1,000. However, when the cost of tuition for a semester at the University of Oxford costs up to $17,000, it can make the idea of traveling abroad daunting for students who don’t recognize the value of the opportunity.
“So what’s the value?” Stoy said. “Well first of all, [if] you leave Virginia and you go somewhere else and say, ‘I went to George Mason University,’ people aren’t going to know what that is. You go somewhere else and say, ‘I studied for a semester at the University of Oxford,’ people are going to know what that is.”
Not all the programs are as expensive as Oxford. There are over 60 programs available at Mason, and several are much more affordable.
“You can go abroad for two weeks and earn three credits in Ecuador for around $3,500,” Stoy said. “[Or] you can go to Greece for eight days for about $2,500.”
Compared to other schools, Mason’s study abroad program is relatively young, according to Stoy. With time, the program will be able to offer the same opportunities as other schools.
“A school like William & Mary offers over $200,000 a year to study abroad,” Stoy said. “We’re nowhere near that. Students would say that they don’t study abroad because they can’t afford it.”
Stoy and Arnold said they would argue anyone can afford to study abroad as long as they properly plan ahead and understand the opportunity.
“It’s a matter of them understanding that these programs are a necessary part of their studies and that they require some investment on their part,” Stoy said. “They require them to put some money into these kinds of programs up front so that down the line they get into graduate school, they get the job they want and then they pay those finances off.”