FSR limits students to one semester abroad, $351,000 cut from annual Off-Campus Studies budget

Tejashree Jadhav, Staff Reporter

After the announcement of finalized cuts in the Financial Sustainability Review (FSR), the Off-Campus Studies (OCS) program finds itself amid some financial and structural changes.

In an email sent on March 18, the Board of Trustees Chair Nancy Serrurier announced to the Whitman community that the final amendments are being made to the FSR. The Cabinet’s recommendations were attached in an email from President Kathy Murray on March 10, and are now being endorsed by the board.

International coverage of medical insurance costs about $200 per semester. For seven years the college has covered this cost for students abroad, but under the new cuts their medical insurance will no longer be covered by the college. The tuition aid for this semester will also be reduced in order to support more students.

As a part of the board’s final decision, Whitman will apply cuts to the OCS and save $351,000 annually. The budget for the OCS program increased several years ago when an “unusual” amount of students started to apply, and it has not been reduced since then.

“We believe the lower number [of students] more accurately reflects the level of funding required in a normal year,” the cabinet report reads.

Sophomore environmental studies and sociology double major Bertine Lakjohn is in the process of applying to the Cambodia School of Field Studies for a semester abroad. According to her, FSR cuts will affect her ability to pursue OCS.

“‘One hundred percent, I think it definitely will,” Lakjohn said. 

Students have to fill in the financial gap between the program fees and the financial aid that they receive. Lakjohn expressed her fear about the possibility that this gap will increase due to the FSR cuts. She is currently awaiting the financial details from the OCS office. 

Director of the OCS Office, Susan Holme, differed in her stance about the effects of FSR cuts. In an email to The Wire, Holme explained that the FSR cuts will not affect students’ ability to go abroad.

“We believe in equity in access to study abroad for all qualified students and in reducing financial barriers to OCS, so we are very pleased that this financial support for OCS students remains intact,” Holme said. 

She mentioned that students will still be able to choose from almost 80 Whitman partner programs in 40 countries. What is being cut from the program is only a small portion of the money that the college spends annually on the OCS program.

However, these cuts are disappointing to the few students who wanted to apply for two semesters abroad. Whitman now will limit OCS to only one semester per student. According to Holme, out of the 140 to 180 juniors who study away in a given year, only three to six students enroll for an academic year abroad. Within educational reason, these special case students can still ask to study abroad for two semesters.

“Before you go abroad there are a lot of things you need to do academically and personally, and so some people were prepared for two different programs,” Lakjohn said. 

Lakjohn believes that this change will be a major setback for students who did prepare for an entire year off campus. 

In addition, the Crossroads Program has also been suspended. Crossroads courses are short-term, faculty-led off-campus courses. These courses started in 2017, and were cancelled last summer due to COVID-19. They will continue to be suspended for two reasons. First, the OCS staff who managed Crossroads has not been replaced, and second, the COVID-19 border restrictions are too much of a hurdle for these courses to take place.

“While agreeing to suspend the current Crossroads program, the Board wishes to express its support for experiential learning programs. We urge the faculty to develop programs that are distinctive and financially sustainable,” the FSR amendments read. 

Lakjohn believes that OCS offers an important experience for students. 

“Usually students who apply for OCS are the ones who could not get them before coming to college, or never had the opportunity to. So, I feel most first generation or working class students will be restricted from going abroad,” she said. 

As she awaits her financial aid package for her OCS, Lakjohn hopes that Whitman stays true to its mission. 

“The point of a liberal arts college is to have these opportunities which you wouldn’t have in other places,” Lakjohn said.

Director Holme believes that Whitman will continue to support the OCS program despite the FSR cuts. 

“I believe global education through off-campus studies must continue to be a cornerstone of a Whitman liberal arts education,” Holme said.