The Council on International Education Exchange (CIEE) has provided free passports to 175 USF students. The CIEE paid the initial $110 passport charge and $35 for its processing fee.
Over 400 students applied for the free passports after having been recommended during their first-year orientations or having read about the offer on USF’s website. Of the 400 students who applied, 175 were chosen on a first-come, first-serve basis, depending on eligibility, such as being a U.S. citizen.
Proper documentation for students to be eligible for the passports included a passport photo, a birth or naturalization certificate and proof of identity, such as a driver’s license.
Snow White, the student programs coordinator for USF Education Abroad, said recipients of the free passports have no obligation to complete certain criteria and are free to use them as they wish.
“We would love for students to study abroad, but they don’t have to,” White said. “They’re free to use the passports to work abroad or intern. We would love to see them go on vacation, as having a passport means they can visit another country whenever they want. There’s so many options for them to be able to do that.”
The CIEE's involvement comes as a result of the organization’s Generation Study Abroad initiative, which aims to double the number of U.S. students studying abroad by 2020. A movement referred to as the “Passport Caravan,” the CIEE hopes to travel to enough universities to give away 10,000 free passports by the end of the decade.
“[USF Education Abroad] heard about this initiative with CIEE and we applied on their website,” White said. “I’m sure they’re choosing most universities who apply so they can reach their goal, but we were told 175 was the most passports they’ve given out at any institution.”
Criteria for being chosen as a location for the Passport Caravan was dependent upon reasoning for the school’s students wanting passports, the ability to market the event and a general student interest in studying abroad, according to White.
Lauren Diaz, a freshman majoring in environmental policy and recipient of a free passport, expressed her newfound confidence in studying internationally.
“I feel like I’ve been given a giant head start in my career,” Diaz said. “I want to travel the world and learn about how I can help the environment. Already having the cost of a passport covered makes me way more confident in signing up for courses abroad.”
According to White, students are not obligated to complete any prerequisites from USF to obtain the passports. “A lot of people were concerned they were getting into a study abroad program or committing themselves to something, but there’s literally no catch,” White said.
Even with help from the CIEE, traveling abroad can still be an expensive undertaking. For example, to study Dance in Paris this Summer, USF’s Education Abroad informational site says it will cost any interested student upward of $3,200. White said these free passports are a step in the right direction toward making traveling abroad seem less intimidating.
“Some students have told us they don’t even think about studying abroad because they don't have a passport, and not being able to afford one implies they can’t afford the trip either,” White said. “It’s really about breaking the barrier that some students face at USF. Having $145 given to you for this opportunity is going to help pretty much every student who’s involved.”
Elijah Campbell, a sophomore majoring in global business and recipient of a free passport, said he has one less thing to worry about.
“For my major, traveling is almost necessary,” Campbell said. “Around next year when I start applying for study abroad programs, it’s a weight off my shoulders that I don’t have to worry about a passport.”
Recipients of these free passports will have to wait the average processing time of 6-10 weeks, according to Snow.
The CIEE’s goal of raising the number of students traveling abroad is similar to goals led by USF Education abroad, according to Snow.
“Our goal at USF right now is to have 2,000 students on credit varying experiences by the year 2020,” White said. “We’re really close to that, and I’m sure by the end of the decade we’ll have the 2000 for sure. Receiving help from CIEE will just make that goal more obtainable.”