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Officials seek to even out study abroad

For reasons that remain obscure, Duke students have long preferred to study abroad in the fall semester than in the spring semester. With the numbers becoming increasingly lopsided in recent years, student affairs administrators are looking to alleviate the institutional strain of the study abroad disparity.

This year, 410 Duke students participated in fall study abroad programs, and only 118 students chose the spring, according to statistics from the Office of Study Abroad. Ten years ago, the fall-to-spring ratio was a more manageable 307 to 126.

"It would make things a lot easier if things were more balanced," said Assistant Dean for Study Abroad Margaret Riley. "It's kind of built into the culture at Duke, and changing that is going to mean changing the culture at Duke. And I think changing the culture of Duke is very difficult."

Administrators said rumors have circulated for years that Duke basketball was the primary reason for the difference in fall and spring study abroad enrollment, but Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said this was quite possibly a myth. More important, he said, was the prevailing culture of leaving campus in the fall to be with one's friends in the spring.

Many other colleges, Riley said, had the opposite problem of students disproportionately wishing to study abroad in the spring semester. She credited booming football programs in the fall as the key factor for those schools.

Moneta said he would like to even out the gap. "I'm just sort of calling the question and talking to my colleagues in the academic community [about reducing the difference]," he said, pointing to housing challenges and a student leadership void as negative results of the disparity.

A three-year on-campus living requirement and increasing enrollment means that University facilities must be filled to capacity or near capacity at the beginning of each academic year. An influx of returning students from fall study abroad--and the relative trickle of students leaving to study abroad in the spring--can create situations where there is simply not enough housing to go around.

Such a housing crunch occurred this year, as nearly 300 additional students were on campus in the spring due to the study abroad disparity. Many were underclassmen and therefore entitled to housing. December graduations, dropouts and leaves of absence did not solve the crunch, and an emergency lottery was initiated by Residence Life and Housing Services Director Eddie Hull in search of juniors who would waive their guaranteed housing and volunteer to move off campus for the spring.

The lottery was only partially successful, and for the first time in years, RLHS had to transform West Campus commons rooms and study rooms into bedrooms to accommodate the remainder of the study abroad influx.

"The implications of [the disparity] would be anything from relatively minor to very extreme," Hull said. "This current semester is an example of where it's pretty extreme and is probably more representative of a typical year than not."

Elsewhere in the University, the pool of potential student leaders of campus organizations is depleted by the large number of students who leave to study abroad in the fall, leading some administrators to seek higher summer study abroad enrollments. Moneta said the summer between junior and senior year could be an ideal time to study abroad.

"[The student leadership void is] not debilitating, but it's really unfortunate that sometimes students are forced to choose between a remarkable academic experience and a very valuable student leadership experience," said Campus Council President Anthony Vitarelli. "The solution may lie in a more active promotion of summer abroad programs or trying to strike a balance between fall and spring."

Duke Student Government President Matt Slovik said he thought the quality of student leadership was largely unaffected by the study abroad disparity.

"It definitely has an effect on things like housing and classes and other aspects of University life, but in terms of student leadership, I don't agree," he said.

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