Study abroad can feel like a rite of passage for many students – for some, it’s the only chance they have to go outside of the United States, and it’s one of the best ways to enrich our educations. USF offers over 120 sponsored programs varying in location, topics of study, length and more. However, many in the Foghorn feel that the way the study abroad program is structured is unfair and can be inaccessible to students, due to the department’s rule surrounding credits.
Our current system for study abroad eligibility is centered around the number of credits you have. The university requires us to take the last 30 of our 128 required academic credits on campus. One reason is that this provides buffer time for the institutions abroad to send transcripts back to USF, so students can prove that they took and passed certain classes. Having a delay in receiving these transcripts – for example, not receiving them until the semester you intend to graduate – can complicate the process of graduation checks and issuing diplomas. It is also a rule from Center for Academic and Student Achievement. Once you have senior standing – 96 credits or above – you are within that 30 credit range and have to stay on campus. The staff views that this rule, although well intentioned, is more detrimental than helpful.
The rule disproportionately affects students who come to the University with AP or IB credits, or as transfer students who arrive with credits from other schools. Some members of the Foghorn came to USF as first years with enough credits to put them at sophomore standing, meaning that, by their third year – which would typically entail junior standing – these students would be at senior standing. Following the rules outlined by the center that oversees study abroad programs, the Center for Global Education, these students would be rejected from studying abroad on the basis that they need to complete their last 30 units in residence at USF. Why should these students be punished for being “ahead of the game?”
Furthermore, imposing credit restrictions may push younger students and underclassmen to study abroad, but the experience will only be more valuable the older students are. Immersion will be far richer for students who have already done in-depth studies about the region where they will travel, even in their core classes. The more knowledge and complex thinking you bring to that semester, the more we believe you will get out of it and the more you will enjoy it. Students should be able to make the decision to sign up for study abroad programs for themselves. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have to consult an advisor. However, the university should trust that students who so badly want to go abroad are also willing to accept their graduation date. If students come into USF with many AP or IB credits and could graduate early, but choose not to so that they can study abroad, let them. They shouldn’t have to get a special clearance to do so, as is the case already.
The benefits of studying abroad as an older student trump the rational concerns of the school. If you do end up not graduating on time because you studied abroad, that’s on you. As it stands, USF seems to be prioritizing graduation rate statistics over students’ experiences. The school shouldn’t be barring students from studying abroad as an upperclassman because of planning that’s ultimately on the student.
Even for those of us who agree with the rule, we empathize with those students who weren’t given any recourse after they were denied the ability to study abroad. USF does offer these students the option to appeal the denial, but we have heard too many stories of students who had no clue how to continue after their requests were denied. In addition to not knowing how to appeal, it shouldn’t be that tedious to study abroad as an upperclassman to begin with.
In conclusion, USF offers many great opportunities for students to study abroad. However, changes need to be made to the system to make it more accessible to others. Studying abroad is an excellent experience, and USF should help more people experience it, no matter how many credits they have.