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Commentary: Paying Ohio State tuition during study abroad unfair to students

Shelby Lum stands in the city square in Humahuaca, Argentina during her winter break in July 2012.

Shelby Lum stands in the city square in Humahuaca, Argentina during her winter break in July 2012.

Hastily tying on my apron, and fishing out a semi-clean tie from the pockets, I made my way down the long hallway to the kitchen at the restaurant where I worked. Lived at really.

I was wrapping up the end of another nearly 40-hour week, and the kitchen was more familiar to me than my room in my apartment. There was an end goal in sight though — the funds from countless hours of waitressing were all going toward my six month study abroad trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina, the next year.

Yet my meeting in Oxley Hall covering the finances and logistics of my trip put an immediate dampener on my plans. Waitressing wasn’t going to cover the costs — it wouldn’t even close. I had taken into account the program fees at my university in Argentina, the cost of living, and my flights to get there — but what I hadn’t factored in was tuition at Ohio State.

Logically though, I didn’t understand why I would have had to. I was going to be an entire continent away from OSU, and I wasn’t going to use a single university resource, yet here I was preparing to pay for RPAC, COTA and other university fees I wasn’t even physically capable of using.

No, those charges couldn’t be taken off if I wanted to receive graded OSU credit.

The adviser had essentially said in her kindest words that I was screwed unless I wanted to pile on a few loans to my clearly lucrative future with my journalism degree. She tried to explain to me that it would only be partial tuition that I would be paying since I wasn’t going to be here (which didn’t help), but my obviously distraught face made it clear her words weren’t helping.

I had been planning on this for more than a year. The saving, the long shifts, the hungry (and sometimes rude) customers all seemed like wasted time when I was going to have to take out loans regardless of my efforts.

The adviser then let me in on a second option, sliding two sheets of paper toward me, I could get around having to pay tuition at OSU if I got transfer credit instead of graded OSU credit. That was the only difference in thousands of dollars of tuition that I otherwise would have had to pay — “K” credit, or an actual grade on my transcript.

This seemed like a no-brainer to me. My degree didn’t have a stipulation on transfer credits, so I would just transfer all my grades from my university in Argentina to OSU once I was done.

I then began the oh so painful process of jumping through every hoop and cutting every piece of red tape the university could throw at me. I dealt with several advisers canceling on me (as I sat in their waiting rooms for nearly an hour), and one adviser told me I should reconsider the trip because I was wasting my money. I had to take course approval sheets and syllabi to every department to have them signed and then bring them back to my own department in arts and sciences.

It’s been a year since I returned from Buenos Aires, arguably the best and most life-changing time of my life, and it still infuriates me that future study abroad hopefuls are not only having to jump through the same hoops as I did, but are also being duped into paying well over what they should ever have to.

If President Emeritus E. Gordon Gee’s words are true that “holding a passport is a first and essential step toward empowering our students to discover the world” then the university shouldn’t make it not only common, but a policy to completely gouge students willing to take a step out of the norm.

While my experience is unfortunately over, thousands of other students will walk through the doors of Oxley Hall and be told the same news I was, and turn down the thought of studying abroad because of expenses.

So, for a summer and the following Fall Semester I was a college dropout, disenrolled, or an inactive student, however OSU wants to phrase it, because apparently the only way for me to feasibly study abroad, against what OSU advocates for, was to drop out of OSU.

6 comments

  1. “… Logically though, …” If she applied any logic to her process, she would have gathered all available information about studying abroad at the very beginning of her planning. To say she was ill-informed is being generous. I’m guessing the university’s policy on studying abroad was available to her – she just chose not to research it.

  2. Sounds like you had bad advisors to not have been told the costs up front. I wouldn't doubt that OSU discourages students being informed on how to avoid fees. Try and test out, community college, life experience ect… as many courses as you can.

  3. Currently (I do not know how it was when the writer was a student) you only have to pay for the instructional and general fees when it comes to tuition. You do not have to pay the COTA, Activity Fee, RPAC fee, etc.

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