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The Carletonian

Equality in student opportunities a major concern in OCS costs

<ir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-74272caa-ab01-03fd-f28d-e06c9649d394">Three-quarters of Carleton students will study off campus at least once in their Carleton careers. Half of those students will go off campus a second time. However, irrespective of the student or the program – disregarding financial aid – each experience costs students the same amount. With 18 educational opportunities available outside the confines of Northfield, Minnesota, every year, Carleton’s Off-Campus Studies (OCS) office offers experiences unlike those available on campus.

“There’s just no way that I can think of, in an on-campus course, in which students could have so many opportunities to present and get so much detailed feedback from so many faculty members,” said Annie Bosacker, Biology lecturer and director of the Ecology in Australia program, a mobile, site-based program. “I can’t replicate that on campus.”

History Professor Bill North is the co-director of the Rome program, which focuses on engagement with the community and the experience of travel. “You see things differently when you move to another place,” he said. “You appreciate different things.”

Carleton’s off-campus seminars — 10-week, term-long programs — can cost the College anywhere from $140,000 to $380,000. The substantial difference in expenditures are closely tied to the various shapes of the different programs. When an OCS program is first conceived, the faculty member proposing it can apply for a travel grant from the OCS office to explore potential educational opportunities and see if the location is a good fit for a program. North used this grant when he and co-director Victoria Morse began to plan the Rome program.

“Often, it’s a very different thing to consider a place for a program than as an individual researcher,” said North.

Connections with organizations, institutions, or individuals within the country must also be considered for a program proposal. Such organizations are integral to potential programs. “There is no way we could run 18 programs without partnerships,” said Helena Kaufman, director of the OCS office. Logistics and emergency services, according to Kaufman, are most often provided by these organizations, although they often serve academic purposes. North’s program works with people involved in historic preservation, including a woman integral to the restoration of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “Essentially, she’s our guide,” said North. Similarly, Bosacker’s program works with local experts in biology and ecology.

Once the details are worked out, a proposal for the program is submitted to the OCS committee — comprised of faculty members and staff from various College offices — for review. “The committee has to look at offering [a] varied, rich portfolio [and] smoothing [enrollment] across terms,” said Kaufman. Avoiding splitting applicant pools is also a consideration. Budget, however. is only considered in terms of program enrollment.

Since the Carleton OCS program model is entirely self-sustaining, all expenses are covered by the “comprehensive fee” charged to participating students. “Because [the program budget] is driven by tuition, we have as much income as we have students,” said Kaufman. “In that sense, there is some financial consideration.” Program size is crucial to faculty directors of a program as well. “Twenty-six [students] usually works better,” said Bosacker. “[Involving] that many local experts tends to … add an expense. So I have to meet all of my Carleton budgets, and that makes that possible.”

Rarely do OCS programs spend more than they earn from student fees. “That has to be approved by the [OCS] committee and the business office,” said Kaufman. “I can think maybe of one or two cases like this over my 16 years here.” The decision to charge a single comprehensive fee, rather than breaking down a trip’s cost as is done for students on campus, is grounded in the variation within the available programs. “The costs aren’t as straightforward as it may seem at first,” said Kaufman. “We need to be able to move these resources into different parts of the budget depending on [the] site and depending on what we do on site.”

A location with a lower cost of living may require expensive transportation to ensure student safety, evening out costs. Conversely, a program in a more expensive location may not cost as much as expected. “For example, Japan is a very expensive site,” Kaufman said of the linguistics and culture program, which might struggle financially due to low enrollment. “But because we have [a] very good relationship with Doshisha [University], we are able to bring [the cost] down.”

The comprehensive fee covers all program costs, from tuition to travel to overhead costs. A budget for an exploratory trip is included as well, allowing directors of recurring programs to do site research or solidify local relationships. For non-Carleton programs, a $500 administrative fee makes up for the costs of advising, paperwork and other tasks that the office must complete on a student’s behalf.

Winter and Spring break trips are significantly different from the seminar model in terms of finances. Rather than being financed by student fees, they are entirely funded by the College. Kaufman said that enrollment for these trips is restricted based on budgets, making them more competitive than those that follow the seminar model. They continue to be attractive to faculty due to the unique experience they provide, pairing an off-campus field experience with on-campus courses.

Despite these limitations, Carleton is dedicated to a “no-fee” policy for its break programs. “We realize that if we did that, it would restrict access to this type of program,” said Kaufman. “I think there is just a very strong belief [across campus] in equal access for all students on campus to all opportunities.” Above all, money does not seem to be as much of a limiting factor for Carleton’s OCS programs as time is. “You can’t really do good science in three days,” said Bosacker.

North shares her sentiment. “The thing that I would most like is just more time, and that’s the thing I can’t have.”

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