Study abroad act may decrease study abroad costs

By Michael Logli

A bill in the U.S. Senate could help the University attain its goal of increasing the number of undergraduate students studying abroad.

The University hopes to increase the number of undergraduates studying beyond U.S. borders from 25 to 50 percent, said Erika Ryser, associate director of the Study Abroad Office.

The bill, introduced in March 2007 by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is called the Study Abroad Foundation Act and is attributed to the work of late Illinois Sen. Paul Simon.

The bill would create the Senator Paul Simon Foundation to administer and distribute over $80 million in grants to universities across the nation for study abroad programs.

Ryser said this was a good idea, but there are no specific allocations of the grant money to the University.

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Regardless, the University would take advantage of this money if possible.

“It’s not clear exactly how the University will benefit,” Ryser said.

The University has more than a dozen other study abroad scholarships, including Illinois for Illinois, which was created after positive feedback from a binding student referendum during the student elections last year. This scholarship, funded by a student-paid $5 fee, gives away $250,000 annually through 100 awards, ranging from $500 to $5,000. Some scholarships, however, are awarded based on specific programs or student needs, Ryser said.

Regardless of how the bill directly helps the University, the bill would help increase the number of students from low-income families that could study abroad, Ryser said. Increasing the number of students from low-income families is a national problem as well, especially with the current economic problems in the country.

“It’s becoming a bit more challenging for students to study abroad,” Ryser said.

Laura Horan, junior in LAS, is studying history abroad in York, England, this semester. Horan did not receive any money from study abroad scholarships, but she said more scholarship money would encourage more students to study abroad and help decrease the costly price for some programs.

Horan’s program costs roughly the same amount of money a semester as the University would cost, but she said her friend’s program to England costs more than $40,000 for the semester.

“A lot of them are pretty expensive,” Horan said.

Adam Ciganek, senior in LAS, said he has no interest in studying abroad.

Despite being in his senior year, Ciganek said he feels he does not need the experience nor would it help him in the future.

“At this point in my collegiate career, I’m not interested in studying abroad right now,” he said.

Still, Horan said more students should study abroad because of its benefits.

Studying in a different culture educates students through experience that is impossible to achieve while studying at the University, and Horan said she recommends it to all students.

“It’s an eye-opening experience,” Horan said.