Each year, hundreds of University students travel all over the world to take advantage of one of the best learning experiences the University offers: studying abroad. But while the option to study abroad provides a great opportunity, making it a requirement is not such a good idea. Under a new policy, all undergraduates in the School of Art & Design will be required to study abroad during their college career. This may sound great in theory, but concerns about the financial strain on already-burdened students makes it clear that this policy should be more thoroughly reviewed before it is implemented.

The University is one of the biggest participators in study abroad among institutions with graduate level programs, having the sixth most travelers during the 2006-2007 school year. Of undergraduate programs, the School of Art & Design has a strong rate of participation. About half of this college’s students choose to go abroad during their time at the University.

But under the new policy the school added last week, students won’t be choosing to go abroad — they’ll be forced. Starting in the fall semester of 2010, all undergraduates in the School of Art & Design will be required to study abroad for at least three weeks to graduate.

While studying abroad may be a relevant and influential experience for students, it also costs money. For many students, attending the University is already a financial burden and studying abroad may not be viable purely for financial reasons. By instituting this policy, the School of Art & Design is ignoring the circumstances of students who can’t afford the costs of studying abroad.

The School of Art & Design seems confident that in most cases, students’ financial aid will carry over when traveling. But it can’t guarantee this in all instances, and that’s a problem. Though there are scholarships that students can apply for specifically dealing with study abroad programs, applying for scholarships takes time and isn’t a sure thing. And even if a student is awarded a scholarship, it may not be enough to cover the costs of going overseas. Securing a way to pay for such travels should have been the school’s priority well in advance of making study abroad mandatory.

Luckily, the School of Art & Design recognizes the costs as an important issue for students. According to Joe Trumpey, the School’s director of international engagement, the School has fundraising goals to improve financial aid for study abroad programs. And an expected increase from alumni donors to contribute to the financial aid should help out students who don’t have the cash to pay for the trip on their own.

Aside from these cost issues, study abroad just isn’t a viable option for every student. Other suitable excuses exist — some students need to work to pay tuition, for example. While such a group may be in the minority, its existence means that the School of Art & Design really needs to rethink this policy.

It’s certainly true that study abroad is an enriching educational opportunity. The School of Art & Design’s high rate of students already taking advantage of this is encouraging proof. But by mandating study abroad before explaining how all students could afford it — and by ignoring the realities of certain students for whom study abroad just isn’t a good fit — the school instituted a rash policy. The School of Art & Design should take a closer look at this policy, keeping in mind the financial situation of most students at the University.

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