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JYA, Semester Abroad Programs Regroup

February 1, 1997

Donna D. Soper

To borrow a famous turn-of-phrase from Mark Twain, "Reports of [its] death are greatly exaggerated." Since the Tulane-Newcomb Junior Year Abroad Program (JYA) was slated for budget cuts one year ago through the Tulane 2000 restructuring process, its viability has been the subject of campuswide speculation.

Faculty, staff and students have wondered about the program's ability to operate with a smaller budget and increased costs to students. In addition, the program's director of 19 years, Marcelle Saussy, resigned in September, leaving a faculty committee with much of the responsibility for oversight of the program until the position is filled.

Yet despite what might appear to be a gloomy situation, JYA and study abroad programs are "alive and well," says English professor Dale Edmonds, chair of the newly created Undergraduate Study Abroad Committee. Admittedly, Edmonds says, the 42-year-old JYA program, which is widely considered one of the, if not the, finest study abroad programs in the country, has suffered a few setbacks. However, Edmonds says, it is important now to leave the past behind and concentrate on prospects for the program's future.

"I think the JYA program will emerge from this process stronger than ever with the backing of the administration." Nick Robins, international affairs coordinator in the Office of Institutional Planning, Research and Innovation-- the office that now has responsibility for study abroad programs--agrees with Edmonds. "People are living in the echo of Tulane 2000 and not looking at what's actually happening today," Robins says. "Study abroad is not weak; it is growing, and in one year, it will be stronger than ever."

The Tulane 2000 plan, which was approved by the Tulane Board of Administrators in January 1996, called for three major changes to JYA and semester abroad programs: the implementation of an overseas study abroad fee, an annual budget reduction of $350,000 and a transfer of the programs from the aegis of the Office of the Provost to the jurisdiction of the Office of Institutional Planning, Research and Innovation. Perhaps the most controversial of these has been the overseas fee.

The Tulane 2000 plan specified that beginning with the 1996-97 fiscal year each student enrolled in an overseas study program be assessed a fee of 12 percent of whatever the comparable Tulane tuition would be for that semester in addition to the university tuition. This year, for example, the fee is $1,182 for one semester abroad or $2,364 for the entire year, Robins says. Previously, students were only required to pay the Tulane tuition for that semester or year.

Despite initial concern expressed by students and faculty regarding the fee, the additional cost to study abroad has not, in fact, dramatically affected the number of students enrolling in these programs, Edmonds says. This year, 52 Tulane students are studying abroad through the JYA program--one fewer than the number who spent the 1994-95 year abroad prior to the introduction of the overseas study fee. Another 13 students spent the fall semester at foreign universities, and 11 are on semester programs this spring. Furthermore, JYA applications for the 1997-98 year are on par with previous years, Edmonds says.

"There has been a real misconception that has gone out regarding this fee," says Robins. Both he and Edmonds point out that the overseas fee is actually less than it appears. For example, Robins says study abroad students are not in actuality paying $1,182 per semester more than they would have paid if they stayed at Tulane.

If they had remained on campus for their junior year, they would have been assessed undergraduate university fees, which are approximately $768 per semester this year. Thus, students are actually paying $414 per semester more to study abroad than they would have paid to study at Tulane. It's the budget reduction of $350,000, however, that has more visibly affected the program, primarily through the elimination of the position of professor-in-charge (PIC) in Great Britain and Ireland.

The PIC position was held by a Tulane faculty member, who traveled to the various universities in Great Britain and Ireland where students were enrolled, serving as a liaison between Tulane and the host university and as an adviser and counselor to the students. The budget reduction also forced the program to cut the half-time adviser positions in France and Spain to quarter-time positions. Finally, the transfer of the programs to the institutional planning office has resulted in further changes--most of which have been positive.

First, Robins says, the study abroad office is being brought up to speed in terms of computer usage, which will facilitate more effective administration of the program and allow for more rapid investigation into additional study abroad opportunities, including collaborative arrangements with other universities. In addition, the office is being centralized to better cater to students' needs.

Previously, for example, a student interested in a study abroad program in Mexico was often immediately referred to the Stone Center for Latin American Studies, Robins says. Students might still eventually be referred to various departments for specific semester programs, but the study abroad office will serve as a clearinghouse for information on all programs.

Finally, Bill Bertrand, vice president of institutional planning, research and innovation, established the Undergraduate Study Abroad Committee to formulate policies regarding overseas study, to serve as a coordinating body for existing programs and to make suggestions regarding the future direction of the programs. Various individuals on the committee are also handling operational aspects of the programs while a search for a director of undergraduate study abroad is under way.

In looking ahead, Edmonds has drafted a position paper that makes several recommendations for the future of undergraduate study abroad, including retaining the JYA program as Tulane's flagship study abroad opportunity. "It's an honors program that serves as a major recruiting tool for good students," Edmonds says.

Further recommendations include reinstating the PIC position in Great Britain and Ireland, increasing the staff in the undergraduate study abroad office and expanding the semester programs to include additional foreign universities in which students are interestedall of which will undoubtedly require additional financial resources. "If we want first-rate study abroad programs," stresses Edmonds, "we must be prepared to pay for them."

Adds Robins, "I think everyone involved in study abroad at Tulane has the consensus that there is a need for additional resources for the programs, including an expanded physical space for the office and a larger staff. Our hope is that future budgets will reflect this need." In the meantime, Edmonds and his committee plan to initiate some form of regular communication with JYA and study abroad alumni with the hopes of garnering some financial support, particularly endowed scholarships for study abroad students.

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