New caps on Duke-approved programs are elitist

guest column

Upon reading about the new 50-student cap on each Duke-approved program and the six-student cap on petition programs, we are incredibly disappointed. Studying abroad is meant to be a time of self-discovery, and this restriction not only adds stress to the student body but also promotes an elitist socioeconomic culture and a Western superiority complex. 

For students with the financial means to study abroad with no cause for concern, this decision likely won’t affect them — at least financially. However, with students who are struggling to pay for Duke, Duke-approved programs are a fantastic way for them and their families to save money. Colleges on the approved list are significantly cheaper than the full bill for Duke, enabling students to graduate with less debt and increased agency. It seems to us that with the new cap, many students won’t be able to reap the financial benefits of doing an approved program, promoting an elitist culture that favors the financially stable. Especially in line with the recently published David Leonhardt article about Duke's lack of economic diversity in the New York Times, this decision seems ill-timed. 

Further, the Duke-In programs perpetuate the belief in Western education’s superiority. The Duke Global Education Office claims “the best international study abroad and U.S.-based study away programs deliver high caliber academics, a strong support system, and the chance to integrate intellectual inquiry into a mosaic of cultural and personal experiences.” Yet, we are discouraged by the lack of geographical diversity among the semester-only options: Berlin, France, Glasgow, Madrid, Venice and Rome. Of 18 Duke-In summer programs, Duke in the Arab World, Brazil and Costa Rica appear to be the only non-Western options available for students willing and able to pay for a study-away experience. Therefore, Duke-approved programs are often the only financially feasible ways for students to spend a semester abroad in a non-European country. Student caps on Duke-approved programs will actively discourage students from seeking these options. Students must already submit individual courses for approval and accept that their courses will likely not count towards their major or affect their GPA. Alongside these hurdles, student caps further limit access to studying in the non-Western world. Consequently, they exacerbate the mentality that Duke places greater value on Western educational systems. 

Students have the right to know where this decision came from and why we were unable to have a say in this policy change. The Global Education Office must be transparent about its motivations in implementing this policy change to foster a more open and just environment.

Ellie Armstrong and Chris Paré are Trinity sophomores. 


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