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Office seeks to expand diversity in study abroad programs

Published: Thursday, February 20, 2014

Updated: Thursday, February 20, 2014 08:02


Jodi Bosin / Tufts Daily Archives

Acclaimed for its study abroad programs, Tufts lacks diversity in its enrollment, according to a December 2013 report from the Council on Diversity. 

During their four years at Tufts, just 30 percent of African American students, compared to 53 percent of white students, will study abroad. 

“While these rates of participation exceed those at peer schools, the university must ensure that all barriers to participation are understood and addressed,” the Council wrote in the report.

The report recommends Tufts improves its opportunities for inclusion in these international study opportunities. The Council expressed concerns that African American students may feel that they do not have equal opportunities to study abroad. 

“We have such a high rate of students who study abroad, we want to really open it to all students,” Director of the International Center Jane Etish-Andrews said. 

Financial aid concerns are one of the largest barriers, according to students and administrators interviewed in the report. Thirty-two percent of African American students forego studying abroad because of financial reasons, according to the report. Though the university currently has efforts to ease these limitations, some are more fiscally feasible than others. 

“Students who go on [official Tufts study abroad] programs remain enrolled at Tufts,” Associate Dean of Programs Abroad Sheila Bayne said. “The credits are Tufts credits and the grades are Tufts grades, and whatever the financial aid package is, it goes with the student 100 percent on Tufts programs.” 

But for students who study abroad outside of the 10 Tufts programs, there is an added cost.

“There’s a $400 study elsewhere fee that goes to administrative costs of transfer of credit,” she said. “Otherwise students can go shopping and comparison shop, and decide what program is best for them taking into account all of the different considerations.” 

While Tufts programs are usually the best option for students with financial aid, there are resources for students to get financial help on a non-Tufts program, according to Foreign Study Advisor Brian Libby.

“The total cost of some non-Tufts programs is lower than Tufts tuition,” Libby told the Daily in an e-mail. “Additionally, students have a variety of locations to choose from among the approved non-Tufts programs, some in places where the in-country cost of living is very affordable. This can be an important factor when considering potential out-of-pocket costs.” 

Personal educational loans and federal financial aid such as a Stafford Loan or Pell Grant can provide financial aid for non-Tufts programs, Libby explained. There are also scholarships designed specifically for study abroad. 

Aside from the price tag, scheduling can present another major barrier to students who wish to study abroad. These concerns are particularly relevant for students in the School of Engineering, where there are several graduation requirements not relevant to those in the School of Arts and Sciences.

“Not many engineers went abroad,” senior Oluseye Bankole, a chemical engineering major, said. “In fact, by and large I think it was discouraged, just because of the hard requirements that we have to fill for our majors.”

Andy Berman, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering and quantitative economics, shared similar sentiments.

“I initially was planning to go abroad for a semester but in order to do that, you need to really pack each semester,” he said. 

While it is complicated to fulfill these requirements while studying abroad, it is not impossible. Bankole studied abroad in London for a semester, and Berman studied abroad over the summer.

Originally from Nigeria, Bankole noted that it is a common misconception that international students hesitate to go abroad because they are already studying abroad at Tufts.

“Given my background, I’ve studied in multiple places; I’ve lived in multiple places,” he said. “So that knowledge of being confined by boundaries just doesn’t occur to me. If given the chance to study elsewhere, why not take advantage of it?”

Bayne and Etish-Andrews emphasized the need for Tufts to increase its study abroad outreach among international students. 

“I think because the world is more global in industry and business, it’s good to have these experiences,” Etish-Andrews said. “I think international students see similar benefits that American students do.”

Beyond the ethnic and racial diversity, Etish-Andrews said she hopes to increase the number of first-generation college students who study abroad while at Tufts.

“It’s not as known to their family or to think, ‘well, why would you study abroad?’” she said. “They may not have passports or they may not have really thought about those opportunities, so we’re trying to really open up the community.”

The Study Abroad office has already responded to the report, meeting with the Group of Six to brainstorm how to better their outreach efforts. Among the changes on the table is a way to address costs including airfare and visas that are not currently covered by Tufts financial aid, according to Bayne.

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