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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Merit money no longer applies to study abroad

Published: January 23, 2009
Section: Front Page

Students were informed in an e-mail announcement from the Division of Students and Enrollment last Friday that they would “not receive any form of merit aid…while on study abroad” despite the fact that students on certain merit scholarships were guaranteed the use of their scholarships for study abroad upon admittance to the university.

Students who are Justice Brandeis Scholars, Presidential Scholars or recipients of the Dean’s Award were guaranteed that their scholarships “may be used for approved study abroad programs” in their acceptance letters.

Student Union President Jason Gray ’10 said that he has spent the past week talking to “senior administrators” and urging them to revisit the current merit aid study abroad policy. At the very least, Gray hopes that current merit scholars could be “grandfathered” into being able to use their scholarships to study abroad.

“In this case it is very clear that recipients of merit based awards were recruited and came to campus because they were told in writing that these could be used to study abroad,” Gray said.

Director of Student Financial Services Peter Giumette said that while the administration is “reevaluating” the use of merit scholarships toward study abroad, students are allowed to apply for need-based aide for the semester that they will be out of the country.

Gray, however, believes that there is “often a significant gap between what the university says a family can afford and what they can actually afford.”

“[Guimette]’s argument is not based in reality,” he said.

Guimette said that rescinding merit-based scholarships was seen as the best way to solve a $800,000 shortfall within the Department of Academic and Financial Services. Also underconsideration as solutions was limiting approved study abroad programs based on cost and increasing the minimum grade point average (GPA) required of students studying abroad.

Guimette said that while the minimum GPA was raised from a 2.7 to a 3.0, the department decided against limiting approved programs because “the most expensive programs are always the most popular.”

Gray said that he was upset that no student organization was consulted before the decision was made to disallow the use of merit scholarships to study abroad.

The use of merit scholarships toward study abroad is just one of many complaints students have about Friday’s e-mail.

The e-mail also announced that students studying abroad next spring will have to enter a separate, stand alone room selection process to live in the Village in the fall. Fall housing in the Village will be limited to students planning to study abroad in the spring. The Village will transform into housing for midyears for the spring 2010 semester.

Gray said that he is also working to ensure that students who choose to go abroad by the Feb. 15 deadline will not be kicked out of housing if they later decide they are unable to study abroad.

Gray said he thought it likely that, at the very least, students who study abroad in the fall will be able to have a place to live on campus this spring.

Students are also outraged that those studying abroad will be forced to live in the Village—the most expensive housing option.

Dean of Residence Life Jeremy Leiferman said that reducing the rates for Village housing next fall have been discussed, however it is the Board of Trustees, and not Residence Life that has the final say about whether these changes can occur.

Unfortunately for students who will live in the Village this fall, the Board of Trustees does not meet until after room selection takes place, meaning that students will have no way of knowing how much their housing will cost before signing up to study abroad.

“Students are going into this blind,” Leiferman said.

Leiferman would not comment about whether or not it is likely that the Trustees would lower the price for housing in the Village, however Gray said that while he believes the rates should be lowered, he is not pursuing it because it is a futile cause.

The movement of students studying abroad into the Village is just the latest in a string of moves by the university in an effort to cut costs.

Leiferman denied that moving midyears into the Village would allow the university to accept more students into the 2013 class, which would increase revenue.

Instead he said that currently the university is housing 120 freshman in lofted triples and that increasing that number next year would strain first-your housing facilities.

“Next year’s freshman class is projected to be a little bigger than this year, but not significantly so,” he said.

Leiferman insisted that the fact that students living in lofted triples pay less for housing than those living in doubles did not come into effect when deciding to decrease the amount of lofted triples next year.

“It does result in a potential increase in revenue, but that was not taken under consideration in the decision making process,” he said. “It just turns out that this is a win, win situation.”