Incentives offered to students studying abroad in fall

Incentives offered to students studying abroad in fall
FALL-OUT — Since fall 2008, many more students have chosen to study abroad in the spring over the fall. SOURCE: AU Abroad.

Many more AU students choose to study abroad in the spring than in the fall semester, according statistics from AU Abroad.

This year, 84 more students studied abroad in the spring than in the fall, according to Ethan Merritt, a senior study abroad adviser at AU Abroad. In the 2008-2009 academic year, the disparity was even higher, with 130 more students choosing to study abroad in the spring.

Nevertheless, more students are studying abroad each year, according to the figures.

“Although now the trend is that more students are going abroad in the spring than in the fall, it didn’t used to be that way,” Merritt said. “In fact, for a number of years basically it was the exact opposite.”

Merritt said he is not completely sure what prompted the shift, but he attributes some of it to what he calls the “election effect.”

“The turning point when that changed was fall ‘08, the election semester and that’s where we saw a fairly significant drop off in the fall numbers and we had a very large spring semester,” he said. “Everyone probably wanted to be here for the Obama election.”

The trend continued into this year. Merritt said it is hard to pin down the reason why students seem to prefer the spring semester or whether the trend will last.

Nevertheless, this reflects a nation-wide tendency for students to choose the spring to study abroad, according to Merritt.

Housing

The disparity has serious implications for campus housing during the fall semester. With more students studying abroad in spring, it is difficult to house the extra students during fall semester. To address this, several departments are working together to prompt more students to study abroad in the fall to balance the figures.

Students who choose to study abroad during fall 2010 will receive priority registration for the spring and guaranteed on-campus housing upon their return if desired, according to AU Abroad’s Web site.

Merritt said balancing the figures makes it easier for departments to plan.

“It makes [planning] less complicated and I think it makes things run smoother for the university as a whole if there’s more balance between semesters,” Merritt said.

Executive Director of Housing and Dining Programs Chris Moody said the number of students who study abroad in a given semester has a profound effect on the amount of on-campus rooms available.

“Fall occupancy and spring occupancy are two different scenarios,” he said.

Housing and Dining has been tracking housing requests from students studying abroad for the last five years, according to Moody. Out of students who study abroad in the fall semester, an average of 10 request on-campus housing upon their return, he said. This is compared to an average of 150 students who live on-campus during the fall semester who cancel their spring housing in order to study abroad.

When students return from abroad, there is less desire to live on-campus because while abroad they experience a growth of independence, according to Moody. Nevertheless, he said there is usually more on-campus housing available in the spring and that Housing and Dining should be able to fill demand.

“Any efforts to reduce the demand for fall housing will certainly help with high occupancy levels,” Moody said.

The shortage of on-campus housing has snowballed in the recent years. Earlier in the semester, Housing and Dining sent out and e-mail to students announcing a lottery system for upperclassmen to compete for 469 on-campus slots; 545 rising juniors and seniors applied for the spots, The Eagle previously reported.

Even as demand for on-campus housing increased, Moody said Housing and Dining has always guaranteed housing for students returning from abroad and that nothing has changed.

Student Government President Andy MacCracken said he was made aware of the trend during a set of discussions with Moody over housing policies in the late fall. While SG has not attempted to encourage more students to study abroad in the fall, MacCracken said he just scheduled a meeting with Director of AU Abroad Sarah Dumont to discuss the issue further.

“The benefits of really promoting that [studying abroad in the fall] I think are substantial, so we should definitely move towards that,” he said.

Academics

One important incentive is a plan to allow students who study abroad in the fall to have priority registration. Students who would normally register during the middle of the cycle will be able to do so at the beginning, along with seniors, athletes and students with special needs.

School of Communication Academic Adviser Ashley Ackerley recently sent an e-mail to her students informing them of the incentives. She said in an interview with The Eagle that the priority registration will not hurt rising second-semester seniors who would be registering for classes at the same time as the students coming back from abroad.

“The classes that [the students coming back from abroad] are going to be registering for are not going to be the classes that the seniors are going to be registering for,” she said.

MacCracken, who will be a senior when the incentive is put into place, said it would be frustrating if the incentive changes the class registration process.

“I imagine we would be able to get around it, given our advising at AU,” he said. “But it’s definitely something to be aware of, and it’s worth more discussion.”

Students seem interested in the offer, according to Ackerley. She said of the 300 students she advises, roughly 30 have asked her about the offer.

Overall, Ackerley said there are no academic benefits to studying abroad in one semester over the other.

Merritt echoed Ackerley’s neutrality.

“Either semester, you’re looking at a great experience anywhere you go,” he said. “I guess it just depends on if you want the weather to be really nice when you get there at first, or you want the weather to get gradually nicer as you go on.”

You can reach this staff writer at thallerman@theeagleonline.com.

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