Trevecca lags behind peer schools in sending students abroad

bestsemester_logo_orangeBy Christy Ulmet

Deborah Givens sits around a table with four girls from her apartment eating a bit of pita, a dab of jam, a few fried eggs and sipping tea. Outside, they hear chants coming from local mosques. She heads off to her Arabic Language class where she is greeted by her instructor with “Marahaba,” meaning hello in Arabic.

She continues her day with a few more classes and some lunch. She and her friends head out to visit a friend in Bethlehem, but not before passing a flock of sheep scattered in front of them.

As they pass through the check-point, the students watch a group of Arab men pause to do their midday prayers. They unroll their prayer rugs on the edge of a parking lot kneeling towards Mecca.

Givens, senior interpersonal communications major, spent last spring semester in Jerusalem taking classes and immersing herself in local culture.

She is one of 28 Trevecca students who have spent a semester studying abroad or off-campus in the past 11 years. Studying away from Trevecca’s campus through study abroad programs offers students the opportunity to be a part of a new community and a new culture, while getting college credit.

Trevecca ranks just above 50th among the 141 colleges and universities who send students to study in programs sponsored by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. According to a report by the CCCU, Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania was the top sender of students to BestSemester program last year with 37 in 2012-2013. Since 2002, Trevecca has sent 28 traditional undergraduate students to study off campus. Twenty-three of those have studied through BestSemester, a program that sends students to study at 12 locations around the world through the CCCU. Of those, 16 have studied at programs within the United States, and seven of them studied outside of the United States. Five students studied abroad either in different programs or on their own.

The most popular BestSemester programs with Trevecca students are the Washington Journalism Center and the L.A. Film Studies program.

Journalism instructor Jo Ellen Werking-Weedman has sent five students in the past five years to study journalism in Washington D.C. at the Washington Journalism Center.

“It’s a semester-long learning experience that we simply can’t duplicate here on campus,” she said. “For students to get to intern in a D.C. newsroom and take classes with the best and brightest students from other CCCU schools is an opportunity for them to really explore their vocation as journalists. They come back to campus with more leadership skills and a much bigger imagination about how God might be calling them.”

Students who have studied abroad said awareness of the programs and financial aid could be reasons more students don’t choose to spend a semester off campus.

The options are listed in the university’s academic catalog, and all advisors are sent information about the BestSemester program around pre-registration time, Tom Middendorf, director for the Center for Leadership, Calling and Service, said.

“There is knowledge about it. It’s whether or not students really take the steps to do it,” Middendorf said.

Money is what keeps many students from going, Givens said.

“I know a lot of students really want to study abroad, but they’re worried about funding. Federal loans will apply, but Trevecca money doesn’t,” she said.

Students can take federal financial aid with them, but they can’t take any scholarships or tuition discounts from the school, Chuck Seaman, director of financial services, said.

“If a student has any scholarship through the school, those can’t be used to apply towards a BestSemester program because Trevecca does not retain any money when students go through a BestSemester program,” Seaman said. “For a lot of students, that’s a big piece that they’re losing.”

Many universities in the U.S. provide study abroad scholarships for students, but Trevecca does not.

“Personally, I am conflicted with this,” Middendorf said. “I work with a lot of students that are fighting like mad to be here and are barely making it financially. It may be a stewardship issue; do you give funds for a few to leave the institution and study abroad or do you provide aid to help those that may not be able to return to Trevecca at all?”

Werking-Weedman said some of the CCCU programs have hardship scholarships and offer work study jobs to students.

“The folks at WJC have been great to help my students figure out how to pay for it,” she said.

While the programs can be expensive, the students who have gone have never come back saying that the experience was not worth the money, Seaman said.

Senior mass media major Austin Francis plans to study with the Los Angeles Film Studies Center through BestSemester next spring.

“The main thing I’ve been looking forward to since starting college is getting out there and getting my film career going. All of the feedback that I’ve received about the program has been awesome. I’ve not heard one bad thing at all,” Francis said.

This article originally appeared in the November 2013 TrevEchoes.

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