August 24, 2012
U.S. colleges including New York University and Northeastern University are pushing freshmen into study-abroad programs — before the students even set foot on campus — to enroll larger classes and get more tuition dollars.
NYU and Boston-based Northeastern, which both charge more than $50,000 a year to attend, make some freshmen spend the first semester or two abroad. They then use the students and their tuitions to fill the beds of midyear dropouts and upper classmen heading overseas. While some students find the opportunity rewarding, others are disoriented at not starting off with their class or having a choice.
“Most students are not going to accept this right off the bat,” said Bev Taylor, a New York-based college admission consultant. “What they envisioned was graduating, going to college and being enmeshed in college life.”
While foreign study has been a hallmark of junior year, many freshmen respond to strings-attached acceptances with disappointment and concern, Taylor said. Students often find themselves paying travel costs atop already hefty tuitions.
Katalina Park was delighted to be accepted by NYU, until she discovered she has to spend the first year in Paris.
“I have no idea why they picked me,” said Park, who doesn’t speak French. “I have been trying to figure out what I have in common with the other people in the program.” Although she accepted the offer to study in NYU’s Liberal Studies Program, Park said she’s nervous about the trip.
“There’s so few of us, and I feel like it will be hard to transition back,” the Washington-state native said.
NYU’s Liberal Studies Program makes some freshmen admissions contingent on spending the first year abroad to maximize campus use, said Fred Schwarzbach, the program’s dean. He said students are selected for foreign study based on their preference and interests, and the school tries to pair applicants with a site they want. NYU has freshmen programs in Florence, Italy; London; Paris; and Shanghai that admit 350 students a year.
“We try to make full use of the place we’re in,” Schwarzbach said. “For a long time, that was New York, but now we’ve got these wonderful cities.”
Farming out freshmen at the beginning of the year enables Colby College in Waterville, Maine, to accept 40 extra, tuition- paying students, said Nancy Downey, director of off-campus study.
“Because we have many juniors who leave in spring semester for study abroad, there were beds that opened up,” she said.
Skidmore College sends about 40 freshmen to London for the fall semester. The school, based in Saratoga Springs, New York, started the program a decade ago to allow students granted mid- year admission to start college in the fall, said Mary Lou Bates, dean of admissions and financial aid.
“Students want to start in September,” she said. “Any college wants to fill the beds.”
Northeastern requires students who are accepted for spring admission to study abroad during the fall semester. The programs are run by Northeastern partner universities in five cities.
The students who accept pay Northeastern about $3,000 to $4,000 more than the university charges its Boston students. The price in London, Dublin and Melbourne doesn’t include meals, as there are no dining facilities. Besides paying more, students who accept lose their eligibility for federal financial aid, because the programs aren’t run by Northeastern or taught by its faculty.
Northeastern also charges more for the programs than some of their foreign-university partners do. Swinburne University of Technology in Australia charges exchange students about $9,000 for tuition per semester. Northeastern freshmen pay the Boston- based school $30,680 to go there.
Housing, airfare, overnight trips and the presence of Northeastern advisers accounts for the extra expense, and the courses are tailored for Northeastern students, said Jane Brown, vice president for enrollment management. She said students are eligible for Northeastern need-based aid.
“Affordability is a concern whether they’re enrolling overseas or here in Boston,” she said.
Most freshman-abroad programs charge full U.S. tuition, even if the foreign campus is cheaper, and parents often pay additional living expenses in pricey cities like Paris, as well as the cost of airfare and travel. While students usually qualify for federal aid if the foreign program is a branch of a U.S. university, those eligible for work-study generally lose out overseas.
At Syracuse University, which sends about 30 students to Florence for fall semester, those costs total about $4,000 extra, said Don Saleh, vice president for enrollment management. Syracuse’s cost of attendance is more than $50,000 a year.
“The losers are the parents who pay for it and the financial-aid system,” said Barmak Nassirian, a former associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.
Aurash Abrishamchi, a sophomore at Northeastern, was looking forward to strolling down tree-lined, brick sidewalks in Boston last fall. Instead, he packed his bags for Greece, having failed to get his assignment to a foreign campus waived. While he said he found the trip a good experience, he was initially disappointed not to start off in Boston with his class.
“I was kind of bummed, you could say, to have to go abroad,” Abrishamchi said. “Some people were, like: ‘Oh, we’re the rejects of Northeastern.’”