Have scholarship, will travel: Study abroad opportunities pose financial difficulties for students

Sunday, April 15, 2018 - 5:14pm

LSA sophomore Moe Charara transferred to the University of Michigan this semester. He never seriously considered studying abroad at his previous college. However, with some research and help from the Center for Global and Intercultural Study, Charara will be studying in Greece this coming summer.

“At my old university, we had a few study abroad programs, but (they) weren’t too serious or anything,” Charara said. “I went to the CGIS office to see what they had to offer and see if I could use the opportunities U of M had.”

Charara said CGIS helped find scholarships and programs that would suit him and for which he could earn credit.

“There are so many ways to cover the costs for these programs,” Charara said. “U of M does give a lot of scholarships. (CGIS advisers) are really cool and they’ve helped me a great deal.”

According Scholarship Program Assistant Director Doug Fletcher, the LSA Scholarship Office works closely with CGIS to make students aware of the available resources the University provides.

“Scholarships are all need-based,” Fletcher said. “We recognize that financial aid provides great support for students to go abroad. For many students, there’s still a gap between what financial aid can provide and what they need to go.”

For the 2016-2017 school year, Fletcher said the Scholarship Program provided a total of $1.7 million in scholarships, with an average of $4,200 given per student. Out of the 708 applicants, 407 were awarded scholarships.

“Students have to have financial need, that’s the first thing,” Fletcher said. “Out of the 708, some of them don’t have need or didn't file a FAFSA. Some of those students were packaged fully, given all the funding they needed from financial aid or departmental resources. We awarded every student that wasn’t packaged fully already.”

Despite being ineligible for financial aid, LSA junior Kallie Bernas was unable to afford a program through the LSA Opportunity Hub to research abroad in Berlin this summer.

“I didn’t have the money to support myself without being paid for the research I would have been doing,” Bernas said. “I crunched the numbers and decided that I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have any financial aid based on my household income, but it doesn’t really take into account the fact that I have a lot of siblings and the money is being dispersed in a lot of ways.”

Bernas said the Opportunity Hub was helpful in providing scholarship opportunities to her, but it wasn’t enough.

“I met up with (the Hub),” Bernas said. “The person I spoke with was actually really helpful, but most (scholarships) didn’t even come close to covering what the cost would be.”

Bernas said participants in the research program to which she’d been accepted wouldn’t know if they had secured enough funds or scholarships before committing to the program.

“Once I got this opportunity, I was really blindly excited about it,” Bernas said. “Then I found out nothing was funded and it was disappointing that I can’t do this thing that I wanted to do for a while.”

Even for students who secure funding through the University, additional costs can still pile up. Charara said he had to figure out how to navigate searching for smaller scholarships on his own.

“The (scholarships) that advisers know about, those are bigger scholarships,” Charara said. “I had to look at other smaller scholarships on my own. When it comes to figuring out the affordability of study abroad and navigating all the scholarships, it’s important to find a scholarship that suits you.”

In terms of the costs of the programs themselves, CGIS Director Mike Jordan said the University looks for the best deal possible for students.

“We’re always trying to make our programs as economical as possible,” Jordan said. “So, even if a program has been running for years, every few years we’ll put out plans for proposals again to make sure that the partners we’ve been working with haven’t grown complacent or started padding the budget.”

Jordan  said CGIS has been working to minimize the programs that have different costs for in-state and out-of-state students.

“We’ve come up with a model whereby (students) pay the program fee plus an administrative fee that is the same for everyone,” Jordan said. “We’ve taken in-state and out-of-state tuition out of the formula.”

Fletcher said the Scholarship Program’s new placement within LSA Advancement has also proved beneficial for the program.

“We’ve tried to promote study abroad as a giving option for donors and looking at that option more strategically this year and going forward,” Fletcher said. “We could always use more money; that’s the biggest limitation.”

This past week, LSA won the 2018 Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion in International Education award for Financial Support from Diversity Abroad, a leading international organization in study abroad programs. Fletcher attended the award ceremony.

“The Scholarship Programs efforts to increase access for low SES (socioeconomic status)students participating in study abroad programs was awarded,” Fletcher wrote in a follow-up email to The Daily.

The initiatives include the Stamps School of Art and Design International Travel Award and Passport Scholarship and the GIEU and GCC Program Fee Scholarship . The Passport Scholarship Program provides Pell-eligible students the ability to receive an expedited passport on campus. Fletcher said in the 2016-2017 school year, 69 students received $195 to pay for their passports. In 2017-2018, the program awarded 112 students, nearly double.

“There are so many little steps involved in getting a passport,” Jordan said. “But if we make it one-stop shopping, then students have a passport in their pocket (and) they think they can study abroad.”