St. Olaf’s study abroad program is considered one of the best in the nation. According to the International and Off-Campus Studies (IOS) web page, 76.3 percent of the class of 2016 participated in at least one off-campus study program. The options for study abroad vary in length and scope, usually sending students to one particular region. However, St. Olaf’s Global Semester is notably different from other programs. It is ambitious; students get the chance to travel the globe in one semester. It is St. Olaf’s longest-standing faculty-led study abroad program and aims to give students insight to a variety of cultures around the world. The program takes roughly 20 students and one professor on a journey through six countries across several continents during the fall and interim terms.
The program has existed for nearly five decades and over that time developed an immense financial barrier that prevented many students from applying. On average, Global Semester costs $10,000 to $13,000 in addition to regular tuition costs. Beginning in the fall of 2017, however, the cost is set to go down.
Thanks to a generous donation from Lynn and Lawrence Stranghoener ’76, students will be able to participate in the program for the same price as a semester spent on campus. Financial aid and scholarships will also be taken into account, extending the opportunity to enroll in the program to more of the St. Olaf student body.
The Stranghoeners’ donation was included as part of the $200 million For the Hill and Beyond campaign, which was launched in part to aid the advancement of key programs and opportunities that the administration feels will directly benefit students. These programs include faculty-mentored research, off-campus study opportunities, financial aid and interdisciplinary learning communities.
Since 1968, St. Olaf’s Global Semester has taken students across Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia. Despite the breadth of territory it covers, enrollments have declined throughout the past few years due to the financial strain the program puts on many students. Director of International and Off-Campus Studies Jodi Malmgren said that the declining enrollments were due in large part to the rising costs associated with the program.
“The costs of the program grew faster than the contribution of tuition dollars to the program costs, so fees were raised to cover those costs,” Malmgren said. Ironically, the decline in enrollment raised an even greater financial barrier.
The donation from the Stranghoeners could help reverse the downward trend in enrollments and will continue to offset the program costs indefinitely. Vice President for Advancement Enoch Blazis worked closely with the Stranghoeners through the process of arranging the donation. Blazis explained that the gift will go into an investment in order to generate support for the program for years to come.
“The gift is for an endowed fund,” Blazis said. “Endowed funds are managed and invested so that they generate annual investment income. We spend only a portion of the annual investment income that these funds generate, generally about 4.7 percent of the value of the fund, leaving the principal untouched so that it continues to generate this investment revenue in perpetuity. The Stranghoener gift of $1.5 million for this endowment was matched by the college with an existing endowment of $1.5 million under the Strategic Initiative Match program. So, the Global Semester endowment combined value is $3 million, which will generate approximately $140,000 annually for support of the program.”
Now that Global Semester is accessible to more students at St. Olaf, the study abroad office is expecting to see an increase in applications for the program.
“As with all opportunities, we cannot guarantee that every student who wishes to participate will be able to do so,” Malmgren said. “We encourage students to put their best effort into the application and interview to be the strongest possible candidate.”