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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Why is DCL so eager to get students off campus?

Published: March 7, 2014
Section: Opinions

CAs have to decorate their halls and make it a point of their existence that bulletinboards and doors cannot go without clever themes and punny memes up and down the floor. Each semester carries with it a new theme relevant to the residents of the dorm and their position on the path to eventually graduate. For my sophomore dorm, this means that the bulletinboards are chock-full of fact sheets and maps of potential locales and opportunities to study abroad at some point in our junior year. While these are interesting to browse and ponder about, it leads to a larger question.

As multiple sophomores begin to hear back on their study abroad applications and head off to Facebook to tell the world that they will soon become globetrotters, I am reminded of the Department of Community Living’s blatant promotion of study abroad. In addition to using a good portion of available space to advertise ways to get out of Waltham for a semester, there have even been info sessions put on by DCL that work in agreement with official study abroad policies. It is nice to see two separate university departments work together on something as exciting to students as studying abroad, as they should, because it is mutually beneficial to both.

While the Office of Study Abroad obviously gets more students to apply for programs, DCL gets the unseen benefit of more students being away for a semester and not having to provide housing to them. Everyone has heard over the past few weeks that university housing is not guaranteed for rising juniors and seniors but that everyone who wants to live on campus is eventually placed somewhere. As a fairly good portion of juniors choose to study abroad, this effectively cuts the amount of students that need to be housed by a third if equal amounts are away for the fall and spring semester. This makes it much easier to find space for the remaining students who don’t have the benefit of guaranteed housing that those who study abroad in the spring do for the first semester, while they are on campus.

The Department of Community Living is remarkably ambitious in this attempt to drive students off campus, a direct contradiction to their usual upbeat attitude on how much fun it is to live at Brandeis, because they see the shark in the water here. If they are not incessant in their goal to get as many students signed up to study abroad as possible, a disastrous situation could arise for housing. While many students with high enough lottery numbers will eventually look off-campus for housing, there will still be some students who wish to live on campus. With fewer students away for a semester, available housing could run dry. The oft-included adage on campus tours that housing is essentially guaranteed for upperclassmen who really want it, presenting a sense of security and comfort to prospective students and parents, could no longer be used. Brandeis wants to maintain this partial identity of a small, inclusive liberal arts college, but this could not be true if students who want to live on campus are turned away.

So DCL pawns themselves out for this ultimate goal of maintaining a balance on campus. They should not have to, but with a lack of housing available to upperclassmen, this is the consequence. DCL should be less focused on ways that students can leave school and spend more time on how to make the community a safer place and a more active environment for all. The Department of Community Living, however, is not the only one to cast doubt upon.

The university also has responsibility in all of this. It is offered even more benefits than just a relief for housing in all of this. For some reason, the school charges full tuition for the semester that a student is studying abroad, which is then forwarded to the program to cover those costs. If the program costs less than the Brandeis tuition of roughly $22,000, the school pockets the difference. While it might not add any extra financial burden to students or their families, it is still an unethical practice that the school gains from financially. The increased burden of extra costs for travel, visas and other necessities that accompany living in a different country are still there, and the school could be more helpful with the financials. The school actively advertises the vast amount of opportunities offered to students and how many students decide to go forward with it. Yet what the school does not advertise is how much Brandeis gains from it.

By not being on campus, students are unable to benefit from all that tuition covers. Beyond just classes and faculty salaries, which cover a majority of the cost of tuition, students are missing out on extracurricular activities and events that are open to the entire community, even if a particular student is not involved in the production of that affair. Any academic advising and use of campus facilities beyond the library and classrooms is impossible if someone is thousands of miles away from the school.

Students, through the actions of DCL and general university policy, are being taken advantage of by choosing to study abroad. They help out the housing situation by not needing a place to stay for a semester, which then creates more available housing to students still on campus, and shell out a lot of money to do so. This is supposed to be an attractive feature of Brandeis, something advertised in every pamphlet handed out to impressionable high school students to convince them to come here.

Yes, studying abroad is an excellent opportunity that is only available for some during their college years. The ability to move to another country so easily is something that becomes increasingly difficult after graduating from college. And the experience gained from living within a different culture is something every young adult should encounter to better prepare them for the real world, where everyone one interacts with is not exactly the same, with a similar cultural background and goals. Yet the school is making a killing on it all, with most students turning a blind eye.

This is a conscious effort by the Department of Community Living to promote study abroad to both get students off campus and make the university more money, something students and their parents have been doing more than enough for already. The university can certainly be more honest in these attempts to drive students straight to the airport and not look back. Not to current students, because everyone on campus has a good idea of these practices, but instead to prospective students. Sure, the facts given on study abroad at this school are enticing, but they do not tell the whole story. The university could look a lot better if they could simply be honest with everyone, whether it’s with study abroad or executive compensation, and students could get a more accurate view of Brandeis before they apply.