Study-abroad restrictions prudent

The decisions should be based in safety concerns alone, not political differences.

Recently, the University’s Learning Abroad Center announced a new policy to help determine whether students can get finanicial aid to study in countries under U.S. State Department travel warnings. While the policy has a restrictive potential, if the committee evaluating students’ travel requests sticks to safety concerns, the policy is prudent.

Al Balkcum, a Learning Abroad Center director, said there are no hard-and-fast rules about where a student can and cannot travel using University financial aid, but that cases involving countries where there are travel warnings are evaluated individually by a committee consisting of the University general counsel, the senior vice president for system administration, the senior vice president for health sciences and the associate vice president for international programs.

It is good to see a University program doing anything on a case-by-case basis. A school with tens of thousands of students to worry about could easily fall into the trap of making rules without exceptions. But this policy seems to have student safety at its core and would not necessarily restrict travel to countries with obvious political problems – for the right student.

For example, a medical student might want to travel to Afghanistan and gain valuable experience for credit. While Afghanistan is probably not an optimal place for most students to study abroad right now, at least the International Programs Office has not necessarily put the kibosh on it completely.

Even if the committee rejects a study-abroad venue, students can still have the experiences (provided they find their own financial aid) and the University could evaluate the programs like any other transfer credits. While this provides a disincentive to travel in restricted countries, the University understandably wants to emphasize the risks of going to a country with political unrest or even severe weather hazards.

As long as the committee uses only safety concerns and not political differences during evaluations, students should be confident the Learning Abroad Center is working to keep them safe.