Programs added despite FSP decline

by Heather Szilagyi | 8/19/13 10:00pm

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by Samantha Webster / The Dartmouth
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This decline in participation coincides with an increase in enrollment on transfer terms and non-Dartmouth exchange programs, off-campus program director John Tansey said.

The number of students earning credits on study abroad programs unaffiliated with the College increased to 10 percent for the Class of 2013 from five percent for the Class of 2009.

At the same time, fewer students participate in language study abroad programs, and the overall number of programs offered has decreased slightly. While the College offered 17 LSA programs in 2008-2009, this dropped to a low of 15 in 2011-2012 and rebounded to 16 for the 2012-2013 academic year. The number of students enrolled decreased to 177 students from 232 students between 2008-2009 and 2012-2013.

Tansey said the trend coincides with a growth in language-based foreign study programs allowing students to practice advanced language skills, such as those in the Spanish and Chinese departments.

Some of these new programs include the joint trip through the women's and gender studies program and the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies program to Hyderabad, India and the film studies program in Los Angeles, set to launch this winter.

Lynn Higgins, associate dean of the faculty for international and interdisciplinary studies, said changing the program format could make Dartmouth's offerings more attractive.

"Sometimes students don't want to do precisely the curriculum that's in a program or might want to have some choices or have some flexibility within the format of a program, and some of our programs offer that," she said.

Higgins said the College should question how much of a Dartmouth degree can be fulfilled through another institution.

"Several faculty committees have been talking about getting more clarity and rigor into the way we evaluate what experiences we give transfer credit for," she said.

The College recently limited the number of students capable of participating on a particular transfer term to an average of five in the interest of ensuring academic rigor.

While acknowledging a drop in College-sponsored program participation in recent years, Higgins said she is currently focused on offering quality programs that interest students.

"I wouldn't say that is necessarily a downward trend over a long term," she said. "It's a piece of the cycle."

Shelley Wenzel '14 said that after not receiving a spot on the environmental studies FSP to South Africa, she decided to take a transfer term to Australia during the winter.

Enrolling in a transfer term with approximately 30 to 40 other Dartmouth students also allowed Wenzel to study abroad in a way that worked with her schedule, she said.

While financial aid applies to FSPs and LSAs, students frequently report finances as reasons to avoid Dartmouth abroad programs, Tansey said. A slowing economy, the declining value of the dollar and increasing costs of living have made some formerly cheap abroad programs more expensive than a normal Dartmouth term, he added.

In a "stressed economy," students tend to focus on practical decisions, like career success, over college experiences, such as abroad programs, Higgins said.

Program offerings change between years depending on student interest, and departments may eliminate a program with a long-term trend of low enrollment.

Shifting student interest may also cause a department to expand offerings. The Chinese department recently added an additional foreign study program in Beijing for the 2012-2013 academic year due to high on-campus enrollment and increasing participation in its off-campus summer program, Tansey said.

The physics and astronomy department is proposing a program in South Africa that would utilize a telescope, of which Dartmouth owns a 10 percent share.

"That seems like kind of a no-brainer," Higgins said. "It makes sense for us to make use of something that we have an investment in and have students have the opportunity to use that."

The upcoming film FSP will capitalize on the film industry in Los Angeles, allowing students to study the material in new ways, engage with field experts and potentially secure internships, film and media studies professor and FSP director Mark Williams said.

"Los Angeles is really fundamentally important to what we study," he said.

The College is currently working on expanding offerings to meet student demand, with the help of a recently received $10 million grant. Due to the lengthy approval process, however, some departments are discussing offering alternative options, including a one-credit course during a regular Dartmouth term or a "December term" to take advantage of a six-week winter break, Tansey said.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: Aug. 22, 2013

**The original version of this article incorrectly stated the number of students enrolled in language study abroad programs in 2008-2009. It is 232, not 197.*

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