Students frustrated after Global Education Office introduces caps on Duke-approved study abroad programs

At least three of the most popular study abroad programs among Duke undergraduates have moved to a lottery-based application system for next year after the Global Education Office introduced a 50-student cap for each Duke-approved study away program.

Students say that the caps are now forcing them to choose programs that don’t meet their academic needs and to make rushed decisions about where to study abroad. Duke-approved programs, which are run by other universities or providers and approved for transfer credit, have not had application limits in previous years. 

The GEO is running a default lottery application for the three most historically popular programs: IES Madrid, DIS Copenhagen, and NYU in Florence. In fall 2023, there are at least 140 students studying through IES Madrid, 75 students studying through DIS Copenhagen and 50 studying at NYU in Florence, according to data obtained by The Chronicle. 

These programs have been popular because they are broad enough in terms of academic offerings that they host students pursuing a wide array of majors, while allowing each student to knock off specific graduation requirements, students say.

“A lot of my schedule has been based around [IES Madrid],” sophomore Tate Staples said. Staples explained that as an electrical and computer engineering and computer science double major, IES Madrid is the only program that allows him to fulfill major requirements abroad while maintaining his early graduation timeline.

Sophomore Hannah DiMaggio, a computer science major, agreed with Staples.

“Historically, if you're studying computer science or engineering and you want to get major classes out of the way, which most people do — when you’re in school, you want to get major classes out of the way — you go to [IES Madrid],” DiMaggio said. 

She added that IES Madrid is also popular amongst economics majors, DIS Copenhagen caters similarly to students looking to fulfill pre-med requirements, while NYU in Florence is often attended by students in the arts and social sciences. 

Students can only enter their name in the lottery for one of these three top programs and can apply to at most three total study abroad programs at a time.

The lottery system has created an accelerated timeline for applications. For the three default lottery programs, students have between Nov. 15 at 9 a.m. and Nov. 16 at 12 p.m. to express their interest, “allowing approximately 24 hours for any interested student to open an application.” Results of the lottery for the top three programs will be announced by Nov. 20 at 5 p.m.

Duke-approved programs outside of the top three will move to a lottery if they reach the 50 application threshold by Nov. 17 and will remain open until their respective deadlines or until the cap is reached.

According to the GEO, there has been a recent increase in study away participation concentrated in “just a few locations,” which prompted the changes.

“Students in these high-volume programs struggled to get the needed classes because they competed with other Duke students with similar academic needs,” GEO Associate Director Amy Bowes wrote. “They also experienced longer commute times due to housing availability.”

But even as the changes were made for next year, students say that the new application policies and procedures were not made clear and the tight timeline caused confusion. 

“The first thing that people heard about this was about two weeks ago at the Pratt [study abroad] information session, and the thing about caps was practically thrown on us,” said sophomore Elliot Beamer. “Students were essentially going back and forth, trying to figure out what was going on, how the lottery system worked, because it was something that we never experienced, that no one else had experienced.”

DiMaggio echoed Beamer’s thoughts.

“Essentially, if you’re like, ‘I might want to go abroad,’ you have to figure it out by [Nov. 16],” DiMaggio said. “And then maybe you get a spot and you decide you don't want to go abroad.” 

“Maybe there's pressure for you to go abroad because [there are] so many kids who hoped they were going to Copenhagen or Florence or Madrid, and you feel like you're kind of pressured into going abroad because of it,” she added.

Staples said that the reasoning that the GEO provides — particularly about housing constraints — doesn’t make sense to him. He said that there are three different study abroad programs in certain cities including Edinburgh, Scotland, each of which can accept up to 50 Duke students, meaning that up to 150 Duke students could potentially study abroad in Edinburgh.

Multiple students told The Chronicle that during GEO information sessions, they were told that if a student receives a lottery spot and chooses not to take it, the spot will go unfilled. In light of that, both Beamer and Staples worry about how first-choice lotteries will affect second-choice placements and beyond.

Staples and Beamer both said they’re worried that many students’ second choices will align because friend groups want to travel abroad together, resulting in lotteries beyond the Copenhagen, Madrid and Florence programs.

“There are roughly 500 people abroad right now,” Staples said. “Plus or minus the people that apply late and the people that apply and don't go, it's roughly around 1,500 applications being sent out today.”

“Way more than three programs they're going to fill. I don’t trust the GEO [staff] to actually know what they’re doing,” he continued. 

Beyond the applications, policies and procedures, students feel that because of the caps, their study abroad experiences will be different from what they expected, even if they do make it into a program that suits their interests and goals. 

For DiMaggio, there are programs outside of the popular ones in Europe — particularly in Asia and Australia — that could work for her academic goals, but she says that it would be a sacrifice on the social life front.

“While I'm sure it's invaluable cultural experiences studying over there, if all of your friends are going to be in Europe, and all of Duke study abroad culture is in Europe, you're going to want to be in Europe,” DiMaggio said. “I don't think it's fair that you are kind of resigned to either be back in the United States or be in a completely different side of the world.”

Staples agrees, saying he doesn’t “want to go abroad just to go abroad,” adding that the GEO told students they could study abroad in the spring if they didn’t get their first-choice program in the fall. 

“The student incentive is to go as a group, not even just to be with other students. It's because we want our schedules to align. I want to be here for tenting next semester, I want to be here when other people are here,” he said.

Adway S. Wadekar profile
Adway S. Wadekar | News Editor

Adway S. Wadekar is a Trinity junior and former news editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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