Another meeting, another fee for students

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Committee mulls $1 charge if students vote.

By Carlos Ferrand

cferrand@student.alamo.edu

The Audit, Budget and Finance Committee voted to recommend assessing a $1 international education fee during the standing committee meeting Tuesday in Killen Center.

But they added a caveat to the recommendation they are passing along to the full board: trustees could only favor implementing the fee if students at each of the five colleges vote for it.

According to the minute order, the fee would provide financial assistance to students interested in international study abroad programs.

The minute order reads, “A new funding initiative will provide all Alamo Colleges students with greater access to financial assistance for studying outside the United States and increasing students’ opportunity to enhance their pathway to success through international exchange.”

The $1 fee would be assessed to all students each semester, and the fee would be implemented in the spring.

“A student cannot buy a ticket for study abroad for $1,” Chancellor Bruce Leslie said. “So this is very affordable to spread across all of our students for the advantage of those who can and want to take advantage.”

District 2 trustee Denver McClendon saw it differently.

“This is putting an additional burden on all of our students where a small percentage would benefit from it,” he said.

District 7 trustee Yvonne Katz voted for approval of the minute order but added an amendment that a majority of Alamo Colleges’ students must vote in favor of the fee.

“We would like to participate in this program, but we would like to see student approval on it,” Katz said.

No plan on how voting would take place was discussed.

The Legislature approved allowing higher education institutions to assess a $1-$4 fee to support study-abroad programs.

“The Legislature set this up as a means to expand student experiences abroad,” Leslie said.

The fee does not need student approval unless the fee exceeds $1.

Students should be allowed to vote on this fee, McClendon said.

“If we allow them to vote even at $1, it will be their decision instead of us forcing this down their throats,” he said.

Texas Tech University and Texas State University already have a $4 fee for international study-abroad programs. The University of Texas at San Antonio charges students $2.

Students here would be awarded up to $1,000.

“We believe with the $1 fee, this scholarship will be enough to provide at least a $1,000 scholarship to students who apply for the study-abroad program,” Carol Fimmen, director of international programs, said.

The cost to study abroad varies, but Fimmen said the average cost per person to travel is $3,000-$3,500 for five weeks.

More than 100 students in Alamo Colleges apply to study abroad, but only about 60 get to participate, Fimmen said. The other 40 students, she said are unable to travel abroad because of lack of financial resources.

“We do have a number of students that can’t afford it,” Leslie said. “With this scholarship, this will allow expansion of the numbers of those who can take advantage of it.”

McClendon countered, “You’ve got students that are being assessed who have no interest in doing it.”

“We assess student activity fees to all students and yet very few students actually take full advantage of it,” Leslie said.

If the fee passes, a special committee will be formed to handle scholarship applications.

To be accepted to the study-abroad programs, students must have at least 12 cumulative credit hours from Alamo Colleges, have at least a 2.0 GPA, be in good academic standing and submit two letters of recommendation.

Upon completion, students using the international fee might be required to create an ePortfolio, create a presentation for the annual convocation and promote at least two other international activities within the college, Fimmen said.

“The retention rate and the success rate of students who study abroad or are engaged in international activities is much higher than students that do not,” Fimmen said.

The fee is estimated to accumulate $150,000 a year, and 100 percent of funds would go to students studying abroad.

Alamo Colleges offer study-abroad programs in China, Japan, Spain, Peru, Brazil, London, France, Australia, Wales and Canada.

Study abroad programs are Alamo College classes that travel with a professor out of the country to study specific skills such as language or architecture.

The board of trustees will vote on the $1 international education fee during its regular meeting 6 p.m. Tuesday in Room 101 of Killen Center, 201 W. Sheridan.

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