In recent times, a great appeal of certain colleges and universities has been the opportunity to study abroad in a foreign country, whether for a semester or the academic year. Institutions of higher education are challenged with meeting students' high expectations regarding the variety and number of study abroad programs offered.
At Boston College, the many advantages of studying abroad are advertised by the university. The Carroll School of Management describes study abroad as an opportunity that “allows you to immerse yourself in different cultures, discover aspects of your discipline and yourself, gain new perspective, and cultivate important contacts,” as stated on its homepage.
Back in September, the Office of International Programs sent out a newsletter announcing that due to “a growing imbalance in the number of Boston College students studying abroad during the fall and spring semesters,” there would be strict limits on the number of students allowed to study abroad in the semester of their choice. This differs from previous years, when more students were allowed to study abroad in the spring rather than fall. This change impacts current sophomore students looking to go abroad during the 2019-2020 academic year. To most, this announcement would seem fair and logical. However, BC’s established history of allowing students to choose what program and when, makes this change all the more significant.
The director of the Office of International Programs, Dr. Nick Gozik, stated that the university's decision was both foreseeable and understandable. Some of BC's international partners have expressed a desire for the university to re-balance the numbers when sending students to overseas programs. The imbalance of students studying abroad each semester has led to an abundance of issues for the university.
“The university has been concerned for the past several years about the imbalance between fall and spring semesters, which causes problems particularly for housing, with too much demand for on-campus housing in the fall and empty beds in the spring. Individual departments have also found it challenging to balance enrollments in courses. All of this ultimately affects students,” Gozik said. Although these problems may not appear to be correlated in the eyes of students, it is clear that past regulations have led to issues for student life.
For students, the non-guarantee of their preferred semester and program has led to a rise in complaints about missing out on semester-specific club sports, classes, clubs, and staple events, including football season or Marathon Monday.
The changes have not been easy for any department, including OIP. When asked if this process had been particularly stressful for the OIP staff, Nick Gozik answered in the affirmative.
“Yes. The majority of students are happy with their placements," he noted. "However, for those who did not receive their top choice of program or semester, we understand and empathize with their frustration. Many of us joined the field of education abroad based on our own experiences overseas, knowing how transformational an international experience can be. It is not easy to let students know that they will not receive their preferred choices. Still, we are doing our best to serve as many students as we can.” It is clear that the desires of the students are of utmost importance, but for logistical reasons, some needs could not be met.
Over 80% of students received one of their top three choices and over 70% of students were placed in their preferred program and semester. Students who did not receive their preferred semester were also encouraged to look into summer programs, but those come at an additional cost. Thus, only a small number of students took an interest.
OIP has made it clear that its priority is to provide students the opportunity to find a program that interests them. For students not given a placement in one of their top three options, a second round of selection was held.
“With the next round of students, we have been able to offer a place to any student who is eligible," Gozik said. "As long as students are able to remain flexible in their options, we can find a way for them to go abroad."
The new abroad restrictions seek to mend problems of student capacity and student life that have been brewing for some time. The growing class sizes for the classes of 2021 and 2022 needed to be addressed by the university as students started preparing for study abroad.
In the future, OIP is looking to expand opportunities offered to students. A new program in Mexico City was added this year, and more will join the list of programs and destinations soon. Students can hope that these new programs will help make the study abroad application experience less chaotic for OIP and the class of 2022.