Study abroad forum talks policy changes

SGA hosted a panel of representatives from the Center for International Engagement, Student Financial Services and the Study Abroad Office on Tuesday to discuss the recent changes in Trinity’s study abroad policies.

Recent changes include a revamped financial aid system, creating new and expanding current programs and incorporating study abroad into the Pathways curriculum.

“One of the things we had heard quite a bit was that the previous process was confusing,” said Glendi Gaddis, assistant vice president of Student Financial Services. “Students and families were working with the program providers, but their aid was at Trinity and we had to send part of it to Trinity. It then had to be routed through the university and it was just confusing. We wanted to simplify that.”

A common problem with the previous financial aid system was that students weren’t being charged tuition and fees in the state of Texas. This system rendered the 70 percent of students attending Trinity from Texas unable to receive in-state funding.

“The state of Texas, the funding they have available for students or that we can award to students can only be used if you are actually being charged tuition here in the state of Texas,” Gaddis said. “So when a student would go on a study abroad program, just by virtue of the way our system was set up, because they weren’t actually being charged tuition here at Trinity for that semester they went abroad, we couldn’t give them any state funding.”

“Another area this affected was any students who were receiving Veteran’s Administration benefits. Those dollars could not be facilitated for students who were not being charged tuition here,” Gaddis said. “This new model opens up all of those funding opportunities.

We talked about us wanting to make it accessible. By moving to this model, it helps us do that.”

The new financial aid process is based on a program many other schools are implementing, called the Home School Tuition Model.

“You pay Trinity tuition, room and board and then we go to the companies or the universities we work with abroad and we pay them directly,” said Katsuo Nishikawa, director for the Center for International Engagement and associate professor of political science at Trinity. “When you go abroad, it will be financially the same as if you were coming to Trinity; you’ll pay the same amount for the same things.”

The only cost not guaranteed to be covered is the price of airfare.

“Some of the faculty-led programs have airfare included and others do not,” said Nancy Ericksen, assistant director for the Study Abroad Office. “We have been working with a travel company that specializes in student travel and will let you buy the ticket when the best price is out there and you can pay it off as long as it is paid off completely two weeks before your flight.”

 Under Trinity’s former financial aid plan, lack of financial assistance in the summer was a concern for students.

“One of the issues that we had previously when we started this, was that the way we funded study abroad limited what we could do,” Nishikawa said. “There was no funding for summer study abroad under the previous model.”

The new model supports all programs and seeks to expand beyond the 159 currently offered at Trinity.

“We want to create and are in the process of creating Trinity programs that are going to be both during the summer, in the middle of the semester and semester-long,” Nishikawa said. “Over the summer we are going to do some exercises with other faculty and start figuring out what are the best places that we can develop programs “” what’s the best use of our resources so that, one: students are prepared in the way we think they should be, and two: they’re going to places they’re invested in.”

Another change for students seeking to go abroad is the incorporation of study abroad experiences into the recently implemented Pathways curriculum.

“We want to have programs that are tied to the Trinity Pathways curriculum,” Nishikawa said. “Imagine, for example, a cluster that takes you abroad, or a First Year Experience that you’re taking for a year on campus. We want to launch a pilot where we take the students for eight days to Mexico City during fall break as part of the “˜Inventing Mexico’ course.”

The recent changes, while geared toward Pathways, also can include students under the Common Curriculum plan.

 The combination of changes to financial aid and expanding Trinity-led programs is part of a plan to have a more inclusive and meaningful study abroad environment.

“President [Danny] Anderson was very clear: there cannot be a two-tiered Trinity experience,” Nishikawa said. “There can’t be a type of experience that is behind a velvet rope where if you can pay, you’re welcomed in, but if you can’t, you stay here on campus. The previous model incentivized students to find the cheapest program possible and not the best academic fit for them. We don’t want you to think about price. We want you to think about what’s the best experience for you, where are you going to get the most out of your time abroad.”

For more information, the panel advises starting at Trinity’s “Study Abroad” webpage to schedule a First Steps Presentation.