In many parts of the world, college is cheap.
An international student enrolling at the University of Bologna in Italy pays US$1,740 a year in tuition and fees. Through Indiana University, enrollees who are not part of a direct exchange (about half of participants) pay an academic fee of US$20,200.
At Peking University in Beijing, tuition for a year under the auspices of Boston College comes to US$35,150. The published rate for international students is US$3,420.
Program organizers are quick to tick off support services that make up a big part of the cost difference: cultural outings, security briefings, orientation programs, on-site staff to help get credits transmitted and sort out visa problems. Will someone translate at the doctor's office? Is there a driver?
How much hand-holding and service students want is an individual matter. If you don't need much, can study abroad be done for less? Absolutely.
DON'T LEAVE HOME wITHOUT aid
For most students, financial aid is the biggest factor in affording study abroad. Government grants and loans can usually travel with a student, but colleges are less generous with the aid from their own coffers.
According to a study published last month of about 100 institutions and study-abroad organizations by the Forum on Education Abroad, an association of program providers and colleges based at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, 74 percent of colleges let students apply need-based institutional aid to programs they run themselves; 61 percent to approved programs operated by others. For example, Goucher College, which requires its students to study abroad, withholds institutional aid if a student chooses a program it doesn't run. (Students do get a US$1,200 voucher no matter what.)
The practice encourages students to choose programs that are run or supported by their college. So does the widespread requirement that students pay their college's regular tuition and fees, even if the program's price tag is far less. Only 35 percent of colleges let students pay a program provider directly, according to the forum study.
Brown put the policy into effect last year: if you want credit from Brown, you pay Brown tuition. The idea is that the cost to students is the same, whether they are in Paris or Delhi or Providence, Rhode Island, but living expenses, including room and board, are not. Those come to an estimated US$10,200 for a semester in Paris and US$5,400 in India. Room and board for a semester at Brown costs US$4,800.
For students covering their own food and housing expenses, the sinking US dollar has hurt. Boston University estimates US$10,500 in personal expenses for its yearlong program at Keio University in Tokyo, for a total of US$57,844 when housing, airfare and other expenditures are added. Several students interviewed say the living expenses they budgeted for were off - in some cases by thousands of dollars - leaving them to radically economize, ask parents to send money, or draw down bank accounts.
Alexandria Hollett, an Indiana University senior who studied last year in Bologna, says that with room and board, she spent about US$6,000 more than she had anticipated, or about US$28,000. Today, she says, "I am working two jobs as well as being a full-time student because I have no money."
Rick Vaz, dean of interdisciplinary and global studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, says the weakening dollar has made cost "a significant barrier" for some of his students. On top of regular tuition and fees of US$34,830, WPI charges about US$3,500 to US$7,500, depending on the destination, to cover housing, board and airfare for a seven-week program. Vaz plans to make financial aid for study abroad a big focus of a coming fund-raising campaign.