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Student exchange program shelved

In the wake of statewide budget cuts, the University is suspending its participation in a program that lets students study at different universities across the nation.

On Jan. 25, USF formally announced that its participation in the National Student Exchange (NSE) would be on hiatus for the 2008-2009 academic year. The University cited budget and staff resource concerns as the cause.

NSE is a not-for-profit domestic exchange service that gives students a study abroad-like experience at an affordable price, according to its mission statement. Founded in 1968, NSE includes over 200 accredited institutions in 48 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, six Canadian provinces and the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico. NSE has serviced more than 90,000 students.

“We will not place any USF students at other institutions, nor will we accept placements for incoming students,” Patricia Grossman, associate director of admissions said in a statement. “We hope that we will be able to participate again the following year, 2009-2010.”

J. Robert Spatig, director of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, said the hiatus was prompted by the budget-induced hiring freeze, which barred the organization from filling a campus NSE Coordinator position.

“We estimate that we could cut approximately $45,000-$50,000 in direct expenses for the next fiscal year if the coordinator position remains frozen,” Spatig said.

In the 2007-2008 school year, there were approximately 190 USF students participating in the program, about two-thirds of whom were incoming students from other institutions.

Spatig said another reason for the hiatus was the admission’s focus on preserving programs and services that are vital to USF students.

“With so few USF students taking advantage of the opportunity, we determined that NSE was not an essential program to maintain, since it benefited more non-USF students than USF students,” Spatig said.

Almost twice as many non-USF students were using the NSE option at USF, enrolling in classes here and using various campus services, he said.

Spatig said the decision to put NSE on hiatus corresponds with Provost Ralph Wilcox’s recent declaration that USF needs to focus on the quality of education and securing students’ basic needs in the face of drastic budget cuts.

“The provost has been clear that USF will protect core services for current USF students,” Spatig said.

Erik Myxter, a sophomore majoring in political science from Humboldt State University in northwest California, decided to apply for the NSE when some of the classes he wanted to enroll in at Humboldt were full. Myxter has been at USF since last fall, and is disappointed in the decision to put the program on hiatus.

“It was a really, really easy process,” he said. “It took me like four days to decide what school to go to and about another week to get the papers filled out between USF and Humboldt.”

Myxter has since enjoyed his time at USF.

“My experience has been incredible,” he said. “Basically, everything you could think of from population, size, classrooms, the political culture, just culture in general, everything is completely different between USF and my home state university, and I really like that contrast.”

One of the stipulations Myxter said the NSE asks of its students is to spread the word about the program, but with the program being on hiatus, such efforts were futile.

“I have such high admiration for the program,” he said. “So I’ve been telling kids all year that they can do this and lots of them get really excited, and now everyone that I’ve told has to be very disappointed. It’s a great, great educational opportunity and it’s a great personal opportunity for these students, and now it’s been taken away from them.”

“We have heard from a couple of very disappointed USF students,” said Spatig, “but more disappointed students and coordinators at other NSE institutions.”

A decision about the University’s future participation in the NSE program will be made in June. For now, administrators are suggesting students explore study-abroad opportunities.

“We’re directing our own students to the study-abroad office, since providing global experiences is one of USF’s strategic objectives,” Spatig said.

The major financial appeal of NSE, however, is that it provides a tuition reciprocity system, whereby students have the choice between two tuition payment plans, which may be cheaper than conventional study-abroad programs. Plan A requires students to pay the tuition and fees of the host institution, and Plan B allows them to pay the tuition and fees of their home institution.

That means that under Plan B, USF students who decided to participate in NSE would be able to pay their normal Florida tuition. Since students on this plan receive their financial aid through their home institution, most grants, loans and scholarships received while attending USF would still apply during NSE participation.

Regardless of which tuition payment plan students chose, all NSE students are required to pay for room, board and lab fees at the host institution. They also have to cover the expenses for transportation and sightseeing.

Myxter said that although studying abroad is another great opportunity for students, it is not the same as NSE participation.

“It’s not comparable because there’s usually a lot of added costs attached to studying abroad,” he said. “Some kids maybe aren’t comfortable leaving the country, and NSE was a great way of exploring the great country that they live in.”

Myxter said the decision to cut a program that directly affects students reflects a disconnection between the administration and the student body.

“I just wish they would have consulted the students before they made this cut. It seems that there’s a gap between the people who make the cuts and the people who are affected by them,” he said. “There should be some sort of public forum in which the students could get their voices heard . . . [about] what might be cut through budget cuts, and I’m not aware of any of that happening.”

Spatig described the decision to suspend NSE participation as “strictly a management decision.”

Myxter said participating in the NSE program and attending USF has allowed him to experience things he “never would have been able to do” back home and is disappointed that more students will not be able to do the same.

“I wish there was a way they could work around it,” he said, “because to take away that great educational opportunity for the 45,000 students that go here to explore another part of the country at basically no additional extra cost to them is sad to see.”

New College of Florida, Florida International University and the University of West Florida also participate in the NSE. The University of West Florida has also suspended the program for the 2008-2009 academic year. The school’s NSE coordinator did not respond to calls seeking comment regarding whether the decision was a result of budget cuts.