The cost of a global engagement program is often a deciding factor in when, where and if a student is able to participate. But according to Elon University Assistant Director of Study Abroad Shanna Van Beek, students have many resources available to them to make sure cost isn’t the only deciding factor.
“I’m happy to sit down with a student and look for half an hour and figure out, ‘OK, based on where you’re going, based on who you are, based on your story, what are scholarships that may apply to you?’” Van Beek said. “‘Where should you focus your efforts? When are [applications] due? All the way through for essay revision, what is this scholarship source looking for and are you writing the essay that is what they’re looking for?’ I can help with that, and I love doing that.”
According to Van Beek, Elon is a direct billing institution, meaning that partner institutions bill Elon, and the university bills the student. A student’s entire financial aid package is already applied to a program if it is included in the list of pre-approved programs.
One resource for students is the GEC Access Fund, which was established to offset the cost of going abroad for students who demonstrate financial need. Van Beek said the GEC awards $500,000 annually in need-based scholarships and grants to students.
“We are looking only at need as reported by the FAFSA because there is certainly the perception that the financial piece is the biggest barrier to Study Abroad or Study USA, and for some it truly is,” Van Beek said. “So this fund was made with that in mind, trying to mitigate that specific barrier.”
She said the awards are given equitably but not equally.
“We’re looking at each individual financial package and determining based on that rather than offering blanket awards,” she said.
GEC Business and Data Manager Amanda Zamzes said there are multiple options for students worried about how to pay to go abroad or study domestically. Zamzes advises students to have a conversation with their parents before applying to a specific program.
One way to look at the expenses of going to another country for any term is to compare the tuition, housing, travel and entertainment costs.
“If you can factor all those things together and kind of calculate the cost you’d be here on campus for first semester, sometimes it doesn’t seem that crazy to be abroad,” Zamzes said. “Sometimes it’s less expensive to be abroad. We do have some programs where it’s less expensive to be abroad than it is to be here on campus. But students have to be willing to not go to the traditional locations to be able to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Junior Kelsey Bliss went to Florence last semester, an Elon Center-approved program. Bliss said she received a $3,500 scholarship for studying abroad when she came to Elon, so cost was not a major issue when she finally decided to participate in a program.
“The hardest financial adaptation of studying abroad is not having a meal plan,” Bliss said. “Most of my money went toward food.”
Bliss said some of her friends have not been able to do a Study Abroad or Study USA program solely because of financial burdens.
Van Beek said she works closely with the Bursar’s office when students are concerned about the cost of a program, especially when a student wants to set up a payment plan.
“[The Bursar’s office] is incredibly flexible on that,” Van Beek said. “I will transfer a student or parent phone call directly to the bursar, Jay Harper, and say, ‘Can you work with this student to set up a payment plan?’ He’s always very open to that.”
According to Zamzes, the Internet is one of the most useful tools in finding outside funding for a Study Abroad or Study USA program. The GEC keeps a running list of resources for students on its website.
“As silly as it sounds, one of the financing advising tools we tell students is to spend 30 minutes Googling because there’s so much out there that we can’t keep track of it all,” Zamzes said. “If 30 minutes is what you put in and you get $1,000 back, that’s the highest rate of return you’ll ever earn ... 30 minutes of work and $1,000 isn’t the worst thing in the world.”
Because students are billed by the Bursar’s office and the GEC does not directly collect the money, the GEC staff does not have numbers for how many students do not go on programs because they declined to pay the amount billed by the Bursar.
“What we can speak to is that we know the number of students participating in global engagement experiences is increasing,” Zamzes said. “We know that the amount of scholarship assistance that we’ve been able to award, in both number of awards and dollar amount, is increasing. We know that we’re making great strides in helping offset that cost.”