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ABD-ELHAMEED: Are study abroad programs actually affordable?

Column: Something to Think About

Have the unreasonable expenses made studying abroad more of a fantasy than a reality? – Photo by JESHOOTS.COM / Unsplash

When I was younger and imagined myself in college, I always pictured myself studying abroad at one point in my college career. The one thing that I never accounted for, though, was the cost of this potential future study-abroad experience.

Now that I am a college student, I am realizing that daydreaming about studying abroad for a semester in Eastern Europe is easier than actually having the opportunity to go.

There is a plethora of study abroad programs at Rutgers — more than 180. To say that the University does not offer enough programs for students would be false.

Advisors and faculty members who organize and accompany these programs typically advertise their affordability, listing all the different services and amenities that the costs cover — except are these programs really all that affordable?

Let us explore a few of the programs and what they entail.

One of the many programs in the Middle East and Africa regions is a semester-long study at the American University in Dubai. The program for the Fall 2023 semester is fairly long, starting from late August until mid-December, and requires participating students to take 12 to 16 credits of coursework.

For the program itself, students residing in New Jersey are compelled to pay $18,000, while non-New Jersey residents pay $21,900. These numbers include tuition in addition to housing in residence halls and administrative fees.

The website also estimates out-of-pocket costs for students, from airfare and meals to necessary visas for each program, housing deposits and insurance.

Rutgers estimates that approximately an additional $9,000 will be required to study at the American University in Dubai. In total, students will spend approximately $27,000 or $31,000 for the four months for New Jersey residents and non-residents, respectively.

To put these numbers into perspective, my term bill for a full academic year at Rutgers is approximately $16,000, without housing. If I were to choose this program in Dubai for only one semester, I would be expected to pay nearly two years worth of tuition.

Sure, anyone can conduct a quick Google search and notice that the University campus in Dubai looks much more aesthetically pleasing than many colleges across the U.S. and would be accommodating toward international students.

Out-of-pocket costs are also mere estimates and can list more than what students may actually pay during these experiences.

Another semester-long program at Rutgers is at Cardiff University in Wales, and students could pay between $19,000 to $23,000, depending on their state of residence (including out-of-pocket costs). A journalism-based program to Bologna, Italy, for only 16 days over the summer can cost approximately $4,600, including the out-of-pocket costs.

Overall, study abroad programs can range from two weeks to a full academic year, and prices will adjust accordingly.

Naturally, universities will promote all of their organizations and programs, which also includes urging students to apply for all eligible scholarships. The Rutgers Global program website entails a separate tab for scholarships. Students can apply for internal, Rutgers-based and external scholarships, as well as ones based on financial need, merit or field of study.

Even though students can be awarded anywhere from around $200 to $5,000 in scholarships, and the three mentioned programs above are not representative of more than 180 study-abroad programs at Rutgers, I do not think that these costs are affordable or reasonable.

One of the unique things and privileges of attending a university is having access to a global experience, and many students are drawn to studying abroad at one point during their college career.

I believe that traveling, especially studying while traveling, is extremely important and possesses many benefits, such as gaining worldly perspectives, understanding different people and cultures and simply diminishing an ignorant mind overall.

In fact, the U.S. Department of State's study abroad organization claims that "an international experience should be part of your education, whatever your goals, socioeconomic status, or field of study." I absolutely agree with this sentiment, but it is only written based on theory rather than reality.

It can be easy to feel that feeling of FoMO as you scroll through your Instagram feed to encounter posts from other college students spending their semesters in Spain, England or Japan while you may spend your time picking up extra work shifts to cover your already-high housing costs or expensive parking permits.

With that being said, it does not make sense to have to pay more than a year-long’s worth or more of tuition for one semester in Europe or elsewhere. Sometimes, I find myself trying to justify the costs of these programs but never end up believing that these costs are fair for students, especially considering the already rising costs of attending college due to inflation.

I believe that universities should find a way to reduce the prices of studying abroad to allow for more students in different socioeconomic brackets to participate in these programs. After all, a global experience is important for everyone.

Naaima Abd-Elhameed is a junior in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in journalism and media studies and minoring in Arabic and international and global studies. Her column, "Something to Think About," runs on alternate Fridays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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