Early Year Abroad program compelling but unrealistic

By Abigail Keefe
March 13, 2008

mct campus/contra costa times

While most colleges offer the typical orientation for freshmen, Princeton University plans to send a large group of its freshmen abroad.

“Princeton University is working to create a program to send a tenth or more of its newly admitted [freshman] students to a year of social service work in a foreign country before they set foot on campus as freshman,” according to an article titled “Princeton Plans for an Early Year Abroad,” by New York Times reporter Karen Arenson about a program starting in 2009.

To bring a program like this onto a campus like Cabrini College, college officials said would bring good results as well as major obstacles to overcome.

The director of admissions, Charlie Spencer, said, “I would not favor this plan. Students should have a college success class their first semester. Studying abroad the freshmen year could lead the student to transfer and drop out of college and work full time.”

In addition to taking the success of a student into consideration, colleges must be aware of the legal issues and financial obstacles which play into a program like this as well.

Spencer said, “Legal issues [would be a negative side to the program] since the student would be under 21 years of age. Students would only receive federal and state financial aid. Cabrini funding would not cover study abroad.”

On the other hand, Cabrini’s dean for academic affairs Dr. Charlie McCormick thinks that it is a great idea, but has concerns about offering the program on a smaller campus like Cabrini.

The results could be rewarding, but what if students do not want to take part in the program? Freshman elementary special education major Erin McCarthy said, “I would like to get away from my own life for a little bit and learn about other people, and what life is like in a foreign country.”

Although some students like McCarthy may want to take part in the program, there still may not be enough students to keep it running. The amount of resources Princeton has available to get this started is one of the main reasons they are able to get this program running and will keep it going strong.

McCormick makes the point that smaller institutions like Cabrini may not be able to achieve the outcome of the program which Princeton has the ability to accomplish.

“Princeton will not have to close its doors if this program is unsuccessful,” McCormick said. “For many other institutions, investing that much time and money in a program that is not successful can be devastating.”

“So while in theory I would be a supporter of the idea, I know that in practice we would spend enormous amounts of resources to implement something like this,” McCormick said. “If we attempted to duplicate their efforts, existing programs would suffer. The question is-as it always is-how do we create our own version of a program like this that is appropriate to Cabrini’s mission and is appropriate for the College’s scale.”

In addition to the great and immediate media attention the program would bring to the school, McCormick said, “For a college-like Cabrini-that is interested in continually internationalizing its campus and finding new ways for students to engage in community-based projects, a program like Princeton’s Early Year Abroad is very compelling.”

If the kinks of this program were worked out or modified for a college like Cabrini, McCormick said “a program like the one at Princeton should help students better understand their role as global citizens who have a unique opportunity to focus their educational experience so that they learn to impact this global world. If that happens (and it would have to be carefully assessed), that is a very powerful outcome that would support the institution’s intention to promote liberal learning.”

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Abigail Keefe

Abigail Keefe is a Cabrini College student studying communications, enjoying her time in Radnor, Pennsylvania. Abbie loves working for the school newspaper, the Loquitur, and is also passionate about everything that the communication field has to offer.

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