CMC's New Study Abroad Cost Policy: Is it fair?

In Fall 2010, Claremont McKenna College implemented a new off-campus study cost policy. Now, CMC students who study abroad are charged CMC on-campus prices, despite most abroad programs cost significantly less than a semester at CMC.  The discrepancy between the real cost of studying abroad and the amount charged by CMC leads to the question: is this change fair? Before 2010, students who studied abroad were charged the cost of the program of their choosing. Students were expected to pay all additional expenses involved in traveling abroad including flights and meals. Now students pay full CMC home-school costs when they study abroad.

In exchange, CMC pays all exchange programs tuition and fees, room and board, international health insurance, local transportation, round trip airfare from LAX, and provides students with several other services such as the cost of providing Off-Campus Study at CMC, including pre-departure orientation and individualized advising, as well as the overall infrastructure of the college including information technology, public relations, financial services, on-line library resources, The Writing Center, the Registrar, and the Dean of Students; all resources that are available for study abroad students before, during, and after their time abroad.  However, even after accounting for these services, most students end up spending more for their study abroad than they would have before the policy change.

Kristen Mallory, Director of Off-Campus Study at CMC, discusses CMC’s old study abroad cost policy, and explains that it was unusual compared to other small liberal arts colleges. “CMC’s implementation of this new off-campus cost structure puts CMC more in line with our peer institutions,” she explains.  Still, the fact that most of our peer institutions charge full home costs for study abroad doesn’t necessarily mean that we should.

In 2008, a parent sued Wheaton College (MA) for charging full college tuition regardless of the cost of the overseas program. He believed the cost policy to be “illegal, unfair and deceptive” arguing that Wheaton was not involved enough in the overseas program to justify higher costs.

Michael*, a student at Pomona College, which also requires students to pay full tuition while abroad, discusses his perceived unfairness. Last semester, he chose to pay the program directly rather than pay home-school costs to Pomona, and saved about $6,000. Now. Pomona won’t accept his credits he earned while studying abroad, even though the program he chose was an accredited study abroad program at the college. “I’m now behind on credits” he explains, “but at least I saved a lot of money.”

Kristen Mallory explains Pomona's rationale - credits earned while abroad count towards the college degree “and as such, cost the same as credits earned on campus.”

Sasha, a CMC student,  has decided to pay the full home-school costs next semester, rather than pay the program directly.  She also feels like she is being overcharged.  Sasha found it hard to understand why she has to pay full CMC tuition abroad seeing as “CMC faculty [are] not going to have any involvement in my life once I’m [abroad]” Another CMC student put things more bluntly and complained, “It feels like CMC is trying to make money off of me.”

Some students on financial aid, however, actually pay less for their abroad program than they would if they had to pay full program costs. Under the new policy, students on financial aid continue to receive aid abroad, no matter where they choose to study. Kristen Mallory explains the new policy benefits all students because “it ensures that all students have access to the same academic integrity and equal opportunities regardless of socio-economic status.”

Not all agree that the new policy is advantageous to all students. One student argues that by charging more for study abroad programs than they actually cost, “[the new policy] discourages people who aren’t on financial aid from going abroad.”

Still, this is a new policy, and it may take time to see its ultimate impact on study abroad participation.

* Student names have been changed.