Travel not primary focus

Amye Buckley

Dec. 10 — Financial issues at Missouri Southern and concerns about future state support have prompted a hold on travel – including eight trips representing 15 different courses offered during the summer of 2009.

“We have to make sure that all students — present and future — get the highest quality of education,” said Dwight Douglas, chairman of the Board of Governors. “Travel is a large current expense that we can sit on and not hurt any of our educational quality, at least not in the short term.”

Maintaining a primary focus on a strong education and building up both enrollment and financial reserves will serve Southern well in the long run Douglas said.

“We’re still very strong in the things we do well and if we have to forgo travel for a few years it will not interfere with the quality of education we offer,” he said.

The president’s council discussed the issue earlier this week and asked for a break-even analysis of the individual trips based on student tuition generated by each trip as offset by the instructor’s summer pay and student and faculty trip grants.

Dr. Chad Stebbins, director for the Institute of International Studies, said the trips were never designed as money makers.

“When you factor in the $1,000 grant that each student receives, all of our trips will lose money,” Stebbins said. “The amount of money we spend on student study abroad is sizable, but it’s a commitment we have made to the internationalization of the university. Without the $1,000 grants, most of our students couldn’t afford to study abroad. Even with the grants, each student is still contributing anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 of his or her own money.”

Some students had already placed deposits on the summer trips when they signed up in November. Others were counting on the credits to graduate.

Patricia Pham, senior French and mass communication major, planned to graduate in December of 2009, but to do that she needs one month of immersion in her major language.

“I can either switch it [her French major] to a minor or I have to wait and graduate later,” Pham said.

She planned to go on the summer trip because it would fulfill the graduation requirement without taking her away from Southern for a full semester. If she worked through an exchange program Pham said it could delay her graduation even more because some classes are only offered in the fall or spring or every other year.

“It sucks,” she said.

International business majors are also required to study abroad as part of their graduation requirements.

“Business practices are different in every country in the world,” said Dr. Chris Moos, assistant professor of international business.

Cultural and historical differences do matter in business situations.

The accounting and international business trips had already been combined because of budget concerns. Moos had thirteen students interested in the trip and although he understands the needs for budget cuts cutting out trips completely could be a deterrent for potential students.

“This University has a 10, 11 year history now of having the international mission,” Moos said. “It is part of the core and fiber of this University.”

But students affected by the travel cuts are a minority at Southern, Douglas said, citing larger enrollments in the criminal justice and school of business programs than in programs related directly to the international mission.

“When we undertook the international mission there was no self-study university wide about how to implement it,” Douglas said.

Currently strategic planning efforts are expected to improve communication. Douglas also pointed to the declining state budget revenues noting that 45 percent of Southern’s operating budget comes from the state. He said Southern must concentrate on using the money it has “for the best bang-for-our-buck for classroom education.”

Exchange programs are still an option for students looking to fulfill an international study requirement.

Dr. Maryann Weber, professor of French, said if her trip is cut she will try to help students fulfill the language study requirements for French, but some will not be able to afford it. Traveling as a group, Weber had planned side trips when students were not in class. On their own, she said, they may travel from Université d’Orléans to Paris, but they will not get an in-depth understanding of the country and culture.

“For language students this is their lab,” Weber said. “Can they do this all on their own? It is possible but it is a lot harder.”

Not all trip funding comes from the Institute of International Studies. Art students traveling to the Mullsjö Folkhögskola study art and photography and are eligible for scholarships through a charitable trust.

During the semester an informal agreement allows for an online exchange between the two universities. Swedish students take online classes at Southern finishing with a visit to the campus and students here study online with professors in Sweden.

Although the classroom hours were long his Swedish class time was just too short said alumnus Dwayne Mactavious. Touring galleries and seeing things he had only read about were an added bonus. Mactavious, an international student, transferred to Southern and paid out-of-state tuition for four years. The international mission was one of the factors in his decision and for other international students he knows, especially those who have met an exchange student from Southern. Their influence, he said, is not easy to measure.

“There is no way to trace it,” Mactavious said.

University President Dr. Bruce Speck was unavailable for comment.

{Editor’s note: Online Editor Amye Buckley studied abroad at Oxford University as part of her education at MSSU.]