Does foreign study cost too much?

by Megh Duwadi | 5/28/02 5:00am

Editor's Note: This is the first of two articles exploring the cost structure of off-campus study programs at Dartmouth. Today's story examines tuition, and tomorrow's article will look at calculating the cost of living.

Adam Kuhlman '03 couldn't have asked for a better way to learn about Caribbean literature than spending his Fall term on the island of Trinidad.

But the junior, who participated in the English department's biannual Foreign Study Program, said he was surprised to learn that while the University of the West Indies charges international students only about $3,670, he was paying Dartmouth's full tuition costs.

Kuhlman is not the only one to ponder the intricacies of study-abroad finance. Overshadowed by the immense popularity of College-sponsored off-campus programs are questions about how Dartmouth calculates its costs and why most students pay full Dartmouth tuition rates even while studying at foreign universities that charge comparatively little.

With costs varying among Dartmouth's more than 40 off-campus programs in which more than 60 percent of students participate, it is often difficult to sort through disparate information on what foreign universities charge, how much the College spends on extra expenses and why Dartmouth continues its one-size-fits-all tuition policy.

But a close analysis of tuition rates in a cross-section of countries sheds new light on the question of where students' money goes, revealing that there are often major program-to-program cost differences and that, in some cases, the College could stand to profit from study-abroad participants.

College officials who handle off-campus programs costs disagree with students who complain that tuition charges are sometimes unjustified, offering multiple -- and in some ways conflicting -- views as to why almost all off-campus program participants pay the same Dartmouth rates.

For Off-Campus Programs Director Peter Armstrong, Dartmouth-run studies abroad are in every way equivalent to a term in Hanover.

"These are Dartmouth students being taught at a satellite campus, so the tuition remains the same as it would here in Hanover," Armstrong said.

Since students are accompanied by Dartmouth professors and receive regular credit for their coursework, they are expected to pay full Dartmouth tuition charges, Armstrong said. "The only difference is a change of scenery. There is a set fee for every credit that applies to all campus programs."

Associate Dean of Faculty Lenore Grenoble, however, said hidden costs and unexpected crises make off-campus programs pricier than their face values indicate.

Meanwhile, Director of Budget and Fiscal Affairs Kate Soule said the College uniformly charges its tuition as a financial incentive for non-Dartmouth students to come to Hanover for the less-common exchange programs. As a result, the exchange students pay the same tuition that they would otherwise earmark for their own schools.

Dartmouth's exchange program participants -- who are awarded transfer credits that do not affect their grade point averages, travel without a Dartmouth faculty member and do not engage in College-funded activities or trips -- nonetheless pay alarmingly high tuition rates in comparison with the students whose places they have filled.

The University of Copenhagen "wants to make an exchange, and we want students from those places to come here," Soule said. "It would be quite difficult for Dartmouth to get the students we want if we asked them to pay our tuition since theirs is significantly less."

Similar situations exist for other exchange programs, Soule said, since Dartmouth's tuition is very high even when compared to other U.S. institutions like Spelman and Morehouse Colleges, single-sex historically black schools that up to four Dartmouth students attend each year.

"The idea was to effect an equal exchange," she added.

Copenhagen, however, provides a free education for both Danish and international students. Dartmouth students participating in the social sciences exchange must pay $8,800 in tuition.

For sociology department chair and program coordinator John Campbell, this cost discrepancy resulted from efforts to make the exchange easier to administer.

"The way this particular program developed is that Copenhagen approached us," Campbell said. "They're very interested in attracting American students there. They proposed to us that we have this agreement where Dartmouth students pay Dartmouth tuition and Copenhagen students pay Copenhagen tuition."

Campbell said, "If there was money flowing back and forth, we'd have to be constantly keeping an eye on that."

Program participant Elizabeth Tatkow '03, however, did not know that other Copenhagen students were attending the school for free until she returned to Hanover.

Had she been made aware of the enormous price gap, Tatkow said, "I probably would have tried to arrange it myself," though she acknowledged the logistical difficulties this would have created.

At Oxford University's Keble College, where cost-of-living expenses rival those of the United States, Dartmouth students studying government and economics paid $11,145 in comprehensive tuition costs -- including room and board -- this year. Keble is one of the College's five off-campus programs that does not cost the equivalent of full Dartmouth tuition.

While Dartmouth students studying at Keble only receive two credits toward their major and have no College-run excursions available, most felt that they benefited from the cultural change.

"You're paying for the experience too," program participant Ajay Prakash '03 said. "I wouldn't complain about the costs."

Since Keble does not accept undergraduate students unassociated with an approved exchange program on a term-by-term basis, Dartmouth's costs could not be compared to standard rates for international students.

Dartmouth's tuition for FSPs -- nearly $9,000 per term, not including room and board expenses -- also displayed considerable variation with standard international student rates.

While Armstrong said the costs are incomparable because students receive Dartmouth credit and are under the supervision of a Dartmouth faculty member, almost all programs that are pass-fail and do not include a Dartmouth professor charge standard tuition.

Some Dartmouth students have reorganized their priorities when faced with mounting off-campus costs.

After learning that a similar but cheaper alternative to the Chinese FSP to Beijing existed, Anna Hrachovec '04 decided to forego Dartmouth credit for Princeton University's Princeton-in-Beijing program.

The Princeton program, in which students gain Princeton credit for eight weeks of intensive language training at Beijing Normal University, charges $4,100 in tuition -- still more than the standard international student rate of $1,400 for 14 weeks of classes, but considerably less than Dartmouth's.

Hrachovec will join 120 students from various U.S. universities to study at facilities adjacent to where Dartmouth students will attend classes.

On why Princeton's tuition rates are considerably lower than Dartmouth's, Princeton program coordinator Dave Carini said, "I think the main reason is that it's in China -- everything is cheaper over there."

"Dartmouth costs are ridiculous," Carini said. "I really don't think our program is that cheap. Similar Chinese programs are all the same."

Whereas Princeton pays its own professors to teach students in Beijing, Dartmouth relies on local faculty in China -- many of whom are paid only $400 per month, according to students on last year's trip -- as well as a Dartmouth professor.

"Transactions do not go through individual professors, but through [Beijing Normal]," said longtime program director and founder Hua-yuan Mowry. "We pay a straight stipend to BNU -- we don't know how they spend the money."

For Hrachovec, however, transfer credit is a price she's willing to pay. She was first told of the Princeton program's existence by this summer's program director, Chinese professor Crispin Williams, at an FSP planning meeting Winter term.

"He mentioned that it was cheaper," Hrachovec said. "I'm getting credit for two classes now -- it's equivalent to three Dartmouth classes, but they're not going to give me credit for that."