Budget concerns mean fewer J-Term courses abroad

Senior Hannah Forstrom thinks other students should have the same opportunity she did to study in Italy over J-Term as part of the “Pilgrimage in Italy” theology course.

“It was such an enriching experience,” Forstrom said. “The benefits are endless.”

But students won’t have that chance in 2011 because “Pilgrimage in Italy” is one of several J-Term courses the university won’t offer for financial reasons. “Multicultural Communication” in Hawaii, “Conservation Psychology” in Germany and “Ethics: East and West” in Hawaii also have been canceled. An additional course will be rejected, but a decision has not been reached yet on which course.

In January 2011, eight Upper Midwest Association of Intercultural Education courses will be offered from St. Thomas. St. Thomas usually offers between 10 and 12 UMAIE J-Term courses, although a record 16 courses were held in 2010.

Courses cut due to budget issues

The cap of eight courses is due to budget cuts and a lack of staffing at the International Education Center, according to Sarah Spencer, director of short-term off-campus programs.

“We have requested and been turned down two years in a row for additional staff to support the expansion of programs due to funding and the economic climate,” Spencer said. “International education, like every other unit on campus, is being asked to make budget cuts.”

Angeline Barretta-Herman, associate vice president for academic affairs, said the university is committed to off-campus programming but has to be careful about funding J-Term classes abroad because they yield a low net profit.

“Say a student pays $4,000 for a four-credit course on campus,” Barretta-Herman said. “That money becomes part of our operating budget for the institution. But if a student takes that same four-credit course as a J-Term abroad, then 80 percent of that money will go to the programming that is offered on site in another country.”

She added that cost increases due to fluctuating exchange rates, airfares and fuel surcharges cannot all be picked up by students, so some of the money comes from the university’s budget. In addition, she said the university has to maximize protection of students, faculty and staff by ensuring enough funds are available for emergency situations.

The decision process

St. Thomas will still offer the usual 10 non-UMAIE, St. Thomas J-Term study abroad courses in 2011, but the overall reduction in courses has frustrated many faculty members.

Eighteen of the 23 total proposals were accepted from St. Thomas professors. The Academic Review Committee for International Education found all 23 courses to be academically sound but could not approve them all. Usually two or three proposals are turned down, according to Donald Miller, ARCIE chair.

“We have all these great proposals but we have to face economic reality,” Miller said. “If funding was available, we’d like to send them all abroad.”

The committee looks at various factors when deciding which courses to send abroad, including:

  • how many times a course has been offered in the past
  • the locations of courses
  • the core requirements a course fulfills
  • the number of courses from different departments
  • the number of students the course usually attracts

“We have at least seven to eight courses that have gone abroad anywhere from five to 15 times in the past,” Miller said. “We want to give some preference to some of the new proposals.”

Miller added ARCIE is considering establishing rotations for study-abroad courses.

Frustrated faculty

The Rev. Steven McMichael has taught the “Pilgrimage in Italy” course a number of times, but it has also been rejected in the past. After his course was turned down again for 2011, McMichael decided to protest the situation by not offering his course again until St. Thomas changes its policy toward J-Term courses.

“I was deeply disappointed to once again receive the news that I would not be able to offer the course ‘Pilgrimage in Italy’ next January, which many of my previous students found life-transforming and the best course they had at St. Thomas,” McMichael said.

Senior Eric Rude took the 2009 “Pilgrimage in Italy” course and said it was “a fantastic class and it should be [offered] every J-Term.”

Philosophy professor Stephen Laumakis was also upset that his course, “Ethics: East and West,” which he has taught in Hawaii for the past 11 years, was rejected.

“There’s clearly an increasing demand for study abroad programs, but St. Thomas is cutting the supply,” Laumakis said. He added if the reason study abroad classes are being limited is the lack of staff at the International Education Center, he is willing to help ease their workload.

“We as faculty directors could take on some of the duties of the International Education Center if they’re so overworked,” Laumakis said. “I’ve been doing my course so long I could run it with minimal support. I don’t even need passports or visas.”

Future of St. Thomas’ study abroad ranking

Spencer said St. Thomas is currently ranked fifth nationally for study abroad programs, but depending on the programs offered by competitor institutions, St. Thomas’ ranking could drop.

“We could fall to between 10th and 15th if other institutions are sending the same numbers of students,” Spencer said.

There will be a meeting Friday, Feb. 5, in JRC to inform faculty about the changes regarding J-Term study abroad courses.

Katie Broadwell can be reached at klbroadwell@stthomas.edu.

4 Replies to “Budget concerns mean fewer J-Term courses abroad”

  1. It seems kind of crazy to not let a professor run a course if he’s willing to do the work of setting it up himself. I’d be curious to know how much money is made on a course like Ethics East and West, versus an Introductory Ethics course on campus- but even if Intoductory Ethics makes significantly more money per student, if dropping options like Ethics in Hawai’i detracts from our reputation as a University, then it seems like that would result in greater fiscal loss for UST. As far as I know, this course is by far the most popular of the philosophy course offerings that doesn’t deal strictly with western philosophy- for that reason alone, I think eliminating it is a loss for the University.

    Also- isn’t Don Miller also chair of Modern and Classical Languages Department, which offers study abroad courses? Isn’t that a conflict of interest?

  2. While reading this article about our desperate financial situation and the need to face budgetary realities and start cutting into our uniquely popular, extensive, and transformational study aboard course offerings, I am looking out a window at the new Anderson Athletic and Recreation Center, which is being constructed across the quad. That building is costing $52 million to build and some tens of thousands to heat every year after that until the end of time.

    Now I’m laughing. Our admins sure have their priorities straight!

  3. After reading this article, I think St Thomas should reconsider their plan of action for the study abroad program. One of the deciding factors of enrolling at St Thomas, was the amount of study abroad programs they offered. I think alot of students would agree with this, and if they start cutting these programs, St Thomas may be losing some outstanding students. Like the article stated, St Thomas is ranked 5th nationally in study abroad programs, and I believe they need to keep this aspect to the university.

  4. For me, the deciding factor was the Catholic identity of the university. You can get a quality study abroad program at virtually any university, but only a Catholic university can show you how to see the world through Catholic eyes, which is very different from seeing the world through secular eyes.
    Yes, the study abroad aspect is nice, and I think it should be kept if possible without drastically increasing tuition (which is already way much more than it should be at a Catholic university), but I’d like to see the Catholic Studies and Philosophy programs marketed more aggressively. We have one of the best Thomistic-Aristotelian philosophy programs, and the oldest, largest and best Catholic Studies program in the country, and neither of them are talked about much or fairly highlighted on campus tours. They’re probably the best-kept secret at the university.
    When I started at St. Thomas, I knew nothing about either of them, really, and I ended up majoring in both of them. Why not share these great programs with the rest of the world?

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