At this point in the semester, all University of Minnesota students are well aware of the opportunity to study abroad. Students are encouraged to take advantage of the study abroad programs, and it often seems like everyone can afford it.
There are 250 different programs available, with destinations varying across the world. Sixty-eight percent of students who study abroad choose short term programs, 30 percent choose a single semester and the remaining 2 percent of students commit to a full year, according to the University's Learning Abroad Center website. However, those that choose to study abroad only account for 33 percent of the undergraduate student population.
The University also offers scholarships to ease financial burdens that studying abroad may bring. There are scholarships offered to those in financial need, academic excellence and other demographically diverse groups. Also listed on its website's financial planning page are times and dates for “You CAN Afford to Study Abroad” informational sessions, as well as different resources available to students for help with financial planning. There is even a link for different creative ways to raise money, including starting a GoFundMe and being more conscious of your on-campus spending. It's evident the University wants students to go abroad by making the opportunity accessible to as many students as possible.
Despite the available resources, it is important to note that only 24.5 percent of students of color actually study abroad. As we articulated in a previous editorial, students who belong to racial minority groups in Minnesota face a higher chance of experiencing poverty. A large portion of minority students and others could be unable to go abroad, even with the given resources.
The University's center charges students a $400 non-refundable deposit depending upon the program, which charges directly to one's student billing account. This fee is costly, and makes students put blind faith into a program. Those who pay may quickly find out that funding for their entire trip fell through or another complication arose, preventing them from going abroad. It's important to meet with an adviser to discuss your options before financially making a commitment. This needs to be stressed more by learning abroad resources at the University.
Cost of participation is listed on the specific program's website and posted at least 30 days before the application deadline. Unfortunately, most students would benefit from knowing this earlier. This allows students to have extended financial foresight while working over the summer and during the semester — allowing them to adjust their financial aid packages and let families determine what they can contribute to their child’s abroad fund. There are estimates provided to students and their families, but those estimates could fluctuate. When dealing with financial planning, it's certainly better to receive accurate figures.
We should appreciate that the University offers students an array of study abroad programs. But the University should aim for more transparency through its dates, deadlines and financial requirements, as well as stress financial planning initiatives. While some circumstances may be out of the center's control, it should be cautious of how it advertises study abroad programs. Unfortunately, studying abroad is not as accessible for everyone as the University would like us to believe.