Overseas study required

Those admitted to Goucher will have to spend 3 weeks abroad

September 29, 2005|By JASON SONG | JASON SONG,SUN REPORTER

Starting next year, students admitted to Goucher College will be required to study abroad for at least three weeks -- an experience the school's president says is essential if they are to be prepared for the new global environment.

"What's clear now is you can't be an educated person without knowing something of the world and having some international awareness," said Goucher President Sanford J. Ungar.

"Some people may regard this as radical, but Americans have something to learn from other people," he said. "It's not just us telling people how to achieve the perfect society."

Under the policy, all students entering Goucher next fall will have to study in a foreign country for three weeks or more before they graduate -- and they will receive a $1,200 voucher from the college to help cover their travel expenses. Nationally, only a handful of colleges require students to study abroad, according to the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges in Washington.

The new requirement was pushed by Ungar, a former National Public Radio journalist and director of Voice of America, and approved by the Goucher faculty last semester. The details were worked out over the summer. The cost of the vouchers, which could reach $420,000 annually, will be paid from the college's operating budget and through fundraising, school officials said.

Goucher -- a reputedly liberal campus where peace studies is a major -- will also require students to take courses on environmental sustainability and issues of privilege and difference.

The college isn't alone in encouraging its students to see the world. The University of Denver has doubled the number of students studying abroad, in part by paying for their airfare. The University of Texas offers certificates in international engineering to entice science majors out of the lab. A Harvard committee has recommended that that Ivy League school push students to seek a "significant international experience."

Universities are responding to student demand, said Peggy Blumenthal, executive vice president of the Institute of International Education, which runs and promotes foreign study programs. Almost 175,000 students studied overseas in 2002-2003, the most recent period for which information is available, according to the institute. That was a nearly 9 percent increase over 2001-2002, although it represented only 1 percent of the total college population.

Despite lingering fears over terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, more college students are seeking foreign study experiences because they believe it will help them get jobs, Blumenthal said. "It's increasingly seen as important for your career to compete and function in the global economy," she said.

Several schools also offer short-term trips to underclassmen, hoping that they will get a taste of the foreign experience and then want to return later in their college careers. For example, Arcadia University near Philadelphia subsidizes the cost of sending most of its freshman to London or Scotland during spring break.

Goucher officials began considering its study-abroad policy in 2002, when they adopted a strategic plan that called for more international education. Several aspects are still fuzzy, including how to handle housing. If too many students go abroad during a semester or year, the school could be left with empty dorm rooms, a major expense.

"We're just starting, but we'll get better as we become familiar with it," said Michael Curry, the school's vice president and academic dean.

About 30 percent of Goucher students study in a foreign country, according to Eric Singer, the college's associate dean for international studies. Of that, the majority go abroad during the winter break for three weeks to study specific topics -- including Italian opera and Brazilian dance -- with Goucher professors.

Three-week courses typically cost about $3,000 and are not included in Goucher's $27,100 annual tuition. Semester and yearlong programs are included, although students must pay for airline tickets, passport and visa fees, and certain other costs.

"The voucher should ensure that no student who needed support would go without it," Curry said. School officials said they will raise funds for scholarships and grants aimed at study abroad.

Current Goucher students are not required to go overseas. But if they do, they will be eligible for the vouchers. The money probably will be available only for Goucher programs or those approved by the college. Goucher-sponsored programs are offered in 28 countries.

School officials note that there is a difference between three-week courses and semesters abroad, and say they debated whether they should encourage students to spend a semester in, say, Calcutta, India, rather than three weeks in London. But they acknowledged that students in certain majors, such as pre-medicine, might not be able to take a semester or year off.

"There clearly is a difference, but a three-week intensive experience can be very life-changing. You can come back with a different kind of confidence and an openness to traveling again," Curry said.

It's unclear how prospective students might react to the requirement, and Goucher officials acknowledged that it might discourage some students from attending. Last year, nearly 3,000 students applied to Goucher. "We think we will lose some applications, but we hope to gain many more," Ungar said.

Current students said they are eager to take advantage of the program. Senior Josh Stober has been to West Africa and India during his past two winter breaks and said he would have enjoyed another trip, especially if he had had a $1,200 voucher.

"Goucher students like to travel," said Stober, a two-time student government president. "Most junior students tell you they'd like to go, and the money could make a huge difference."

jason.song@baltsun.com

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