University of Iowa considers study abroad fee

$30 charge for all undergrads could generate $770,000 for scholarships

The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top l
The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph in Iowa City on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa is weighing an idea to charge all undergraduates an extra $30 a year to encourage more of them to study abroad.

The fee, if ultimately approved by UI leadership and the Board of Regents, would generate about $770,000 a year. That would boost study abroad support about 66 percent, according to Downing Thomas, associate provost and dean of International Programs.

“Unlike any other fee, 100 percent of the revenue would go back to students in the form of scholarships,” he told faculty leaders this week in presenting the idea.

It would add to the $1,496.50 in mandatory fees the UI already charges its nearly 24,000 undergrads for things like technology, student health and recreation.

At $15 a semester, or $30 for an academic year, it’s on the lower end of the fee schedule. Students pay a $507 technology fee, a $292 recreation fee and a $237 health fee. But fees add to the cost of a higher education, and regents already have approved several rounds of tuition increases.

Annual tuition and fees for UI resident undergrads this fall total a combined $9,266.50. Adding in room and board and other expenses, the estimated cost to attend the UI is $22,101.50.

Thomas, while presenting Tuesday to the UI Faculty Council, was careful to note the proposal hasn’t been approved by UI leadership or its governing board.

But the hope, he said, is to increase study abroad participation — which has been shown to improve collegiate outcomes — by offering more scholarships to those who qualify based on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

“If the fee were to go forward and is approved by the board, it would have the largest impact on underrepresented groups, first generation students who might not have ever imagined that this would be an opportunity for them,” Thomas said.

The proposal aims to impose the fee on all undergraduates, regardless of whether they choose to study abroad or whether they qualify for a scholarship to do so.

Other universities have implemented similar fees, according to Thomas. The idea here emerged from a group of deans. He and UI Tippie College of Business Dean Sarah Gardial then discussed the idea with student senators.

UI Faculty Senate President Russell Ganim said student support is a difference-maker, as the university has considered a study-abroad fee in the past.

“The main factor is that students are on board with this,” he said. “That hasn’t always been the case. This isn’t the first time the idea has been floated. As a result, if the students agree to this, then probably the moment to act is now.”

UI Student Government President Hira Mustafa said student leaders have not yet coalesced on a position.

“It was presented to us, but there has not been any formal statements from UISG supporting or not supporting the fee,” she said.

Thomas told The Gazette on Wednesday the proposal remains “in process.” If it’s approved for submission to the board, he said, the public will have plenty of time to weigh in.

He told faculty leaders he believes the fee could go a long way to ramp up the UI’s study abroad participation from about 18 percent to the 30 percent range seen at the University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota.

The UI in recent years has seen some declines in its study abroad participation, with 1,365 students studying, working or conducting research abroad during the 2009-10 school year compared with 1,242 in 2016-17.

Research, including from the University of Georgia, indicates graduation rates improve when students study abroad. Those opportunities are expanding not just geographically, but in duration and scope.

A fee would be one piece of a study abroad push — with a growing emphasis on advisers suggesting options and private philanthropy.

“We envision this as a three-pronged approach,” Thomas said.

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