Don't leave students on the hook for study abroad travel expenses

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Photo Credit: Riya Anand | Daily Texan Staff

In March, UT abruptly canceled all study abroad programs.

This week, Texas Global informed students via a website update that they will “monitor the viability of programs in November and February and will make a final decision about Maymester/summer programs by March 12, 2021.”

While students could not have expected administrators to provide advanced notice of the incoming disruption last semester, there is no need to repeat this untenable uncertainty this spring.

Texas Global must be more transparent and proactive about the possibility of upcoming study abroad cancellations. Students need this crucial information so we can plan, or let go of our plans, accordingly. 

Many students are concerned that the outlook for study abroad is grim.

“I don’t see the state of the world, from a health perspective, getting any better until there is a vaccine in all nations,” Alexandra Calve, a health and society junior, said. “I don’t think that Texas Global should be doing study abroad again, especially if it is such a risk to the students’ health and money. I don’t think that's fair.”

Study abroad officials are in a much better position this year than last spring to make timely decisions about 2021 study abroad programming. UT’s own COVID-19 model is viewed as one of the most accurate forecasts. Eight months into the spread of coronavirus, we have already experienced several surges, and UT’s model has been a good predictor of these surges. 

It is unfair to encourage students to continue planning for study abroad — dedicating their limited budgets to saving for travel expenses, banking on study abroad-related course selection to complete degree requirements and signing or giving up leases based on these hopes —  if UT is already aware that it is unlikely summer and Maymester Texas Global programming will proceed.

Many UT students have already geared up for study abroad for spring semester 2021 and beyond. Oct. 1 program deadlines have come and gone. Applications for Maymesters are due Nov. 15, and students must complete summer study abroad applications as early as Feb. 15. 

The potential impacts on students' lives because of Texas Global’s current lack of clarity is unacceptable, particularly given the ways in which its new policies are designed to ensure that students, not UT, shoulder the financial risks of program cancellations due to COVID-19.

Texas Global’s newly published FAQs indicate that they do not intend to refund application fees in case of program cancellation. Furthermore, they offer no assurance that they will refund other program fees, deposits or costs associated with travel. 

“To some people, a $75 (application fee) may be really simple, but to others, that is part of a paycheck or money that was really hard to get or money that was covered by a scholarship,” Calve said. “That money is very valuable and needs to be refunded because study abroad is very, very expensive.”

Study abroad costs remain a significant barrier to students’ participation in the best of circumstances. 

“Texas Global is working with all colleges and schools to ensure the financial policies for programs in 2021 are as transparent and accessible as possible,” Heather Thompson, director of Education Abroad, said in an email. “We will do our best to support students who want to go abroad while minimizing their financial risk.”

However, this statement stands in contrast to Texas Global’s new policy, which has the potential to exacerbate disparities in students’ access to study abroad.

Imagining a near future that includes travel is exciting, but the lack of clarity about whether or not this planning is realistic is disconcerting. 

Strelitz-Block is a Plan II sophomore from Austin, Texas.