Information pamphlets from the Office of Global Education. Photo by Mandy Moe Pwint Tu (C’21).
By Colton Williams
The Office of Global Education has recently implemented changes in the study abroad process that will take effect in Advent 2018, and will execute more changes once the Sewanee Pledge takes full effect.
Last semester, Global Education introduced the “learning objectives form” into the study abroad application process. The form asks students to list their academic goals in participating in study abroad.
This change was implemented so that students will have declared a major before studying abroad, and better incorporate their major course of study into their study abroad plans.
According to Associate Dean of Global Education Scott Wilson, most students at Sewanee study abroad in the fall of their junior year, “so they would begin to apply for programs in January and February of their spring semester sophomore year, and then they declare their majors in March.”
“They weren’t getting any advice from their major advisors,” he continued. “Which sometimes led to them not being able to finish their programs in time because they were going abroad when they had to be on campus, for a junior tutorial or something like that.”
Wilson said this change helps to alleviate issues that may arise in study abroad conflicting with a student’s degree plan.
The biggest shift in study abroad, however, will come in the Fall of 2020, when the class of 2022 will be most likely to study abroad. The class of 2022 is guaranteed the “Sewanee Pledge,” which ensures portability of financial aid for study abroad.
As a consequence of the pledge, “There is no question about whether or not they will be able to use their financial aid by going abroad,” Wilson said.
Regina Gaines (C’22), said that the promise of financial aid for study abroad made her feel like the process would be much more manageable.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Gaines said. “Just knowing that it isn’t creating an even bigger question for myself on if I can afford something makes a big difference. Sewanee is offering a great opportunity to not only study abroad, but to broaden my horizons and educate myself.”
Students not guaranteed portability through the pledge still apply for portability for study abroad. Three main criteria are taken into account when those decisions are made: the student’s GPA, the quality of the learning objectives form, and a brief essay detailing how the study abroad program a student has chosen helps to meet the learning objectives.
Currently, students who have any form of financial aid, including merit scholarships, have to apply to use that aid in study abroad. Depending on the semester and the number of applications, between 60 and 90 percent of students receive aid.
“We’ve had one semester in the last five years or so where everyone got it, but that’s really rare,” Wilson said. “So there’s an extra financial burden for those people who want to go abroad but don’t receive portable financial aid.”
Wilson hopes that the changes in the process and the promise of portability will encourage more students to study abroad, and increase the pool of students who apply.
“One of my biggest concerns since I’ve been in this position is that there is an inherent inequity in study abroad,” Wilson said. “If you were on financial aid, you had to prove that you were meritorious and so you should get the financial aid. So there was a fundamental inequity in both the selection process for programs and who could afford to go. The pledge will eradicate that by saying that anyone who is accepted to a program and meets our criteria will have the funding to go.”
Additionally, Wilson has been working with study abroad providers to negotiate better prices for the University, the idea being that if prices are reduced by a certain percentage, a commensurate number more students can study abroad.
Ultimately, Sewanee hopes to see more students study abroad, and believes these changes will make a difference.
“Right now we’re at about 30 percent participation on semester-long study abroad programs for the junior class,” Wilson said, “and I’m hopeful that we will get to 50 percent or higher on semester-long programs. That would be a good target.”