Fewer students enrolling in summer blocks abroad, classes might fold

 

English professors Barry Sarchett and Lisa Hughes have co-taught “The World of Odysseus – History and Myth,” a popular class more commonly known as the “Yachtyssey,” for eight years. Their course, which includes sailing around Greek Islands, usually fills up by Christmas.

How many are currently enrolled for this summer? Two.

“The enrollments are incredibly low compared to past years,” Sarchett said. “It’s puzzled me. I may be wrong, but I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Gale Murray, a professor in the Art Department, has noticed a similar drop in enrollment.

Murray has taught a summer art history courses in Paris every year for 14 years. In the past, registration has opened the day after Thanksgiving and her class has been full within a week. This year, at the start of February, seven out of fifteen spots have been officially filled for her class. And, unfortunately, that’s one of the fullest summer courses.

“The only thing I can think of is the economic situation,” Murray said.

Every summer students shuffle off on different adventures—canning salmon in Alaska, interning in New York City, WWOOFing across Thailand—while some stick around campus to work, take classes, and enjoy the CC community.

But a handful of students get the best of both worlds by taking a CC summer block abroad. Sailing the Mediterranean while reading Homer, trekking through the Himalayas studying Sherpa culture, examining the economics of Japan, CC summer blocks abroad maximize the block plan to its fullest potential.

This year something different is happening, something that has professors scratching their heads: nobody is enrolling.

Colorado College is offering 15 international summer courses in 2013, with topics ranging from the ecology of the Spanish Pyrenees, to the politics of Northeastern Europe, to Shakespeare in London.

The course fees vary, the most expensive costing $5,800 (“Global Sustainable Development in Theory and Practice: Internship in Bolivia, Nicaragua or Uganda”), the least expensive costing $2,100 (“The Arts and Culture of Bali”).

The fees for each course fluctuate a little each year depending on the economies of the destination countries. The one thing that holds true for almost every course offered this year is that airfare is not included.

In 2010, five out of fourteen course fees included airfare. In 2011, three out of thirteen course fees included airfare. In 2012, three out of eighteen course fees included airfare, and this year, in 2013, only one out of fifteen course fees includes airfare.

CC junior Robert Heald took “Women Writers and Film Makers in Post-Fascist Italy” last summer. Having used his Wild Card, a “one free block available once, to all CC students,” Heald decided against another CC block abroad this summer, because he “[doesn’t] want to pay for it.”

The one course offered this summer that does include airfare in its fee, is the two-block Spanish language class with Spanish professor Kathy Bizzarro. Hers is also one of the few classes with decent enrollment so far, at over 50 percent.

Bizzarro, who has been leading this same course for 10 years, attributes it to one thing: “We’re the only class that’s teaching a language.”

CC implemented a new language requirement this year that requires students to take two blocks of language while attending CC or at another accredited university or college. Until this year, students have had nine different ways to fulfill the language requirement, such as AP and IB credits.

Consequently, “Spanish in Spain,” as it is referred to, has become a popular class.

“Parents want their kids to go for what they consider skill-oriented classes, and not idea-exchange classes,” Bizzarro said. “We live in the age of skills acquired. ‘Can I put in on my resume?’”

With the job market as competitive as ever and the economy still recovering, are students choosing jobs and internships—money and experience—over unique intellectual adventures

While the Career Center has been “extremely busy” this year, they have not noticed a marked increase in students seeking help with internships and jobs.

Perhaps the drop in enrollment—and the move towards skill-orientation—is simply a reflection of the changing CC student.

“My program appeals to the student who has never traveled anywhere. [The students] meet in Chicago, fly in a group, have a two-day orientation, live with their host families, and go to school,” Bizzarro explained. “It’s very academically structured. They take two little trips over the six weeks. That’s it.”

Bizzarro’s class offers students very little freedom compared to many summer courses abroad, which are known for their lax structure and more easy-going academics. But, she added, “students like the classroom. They like having a Worner Center. They want to go to their host families and not be around each other 24/7.”

Students that want to go off and have exciting adventures, she says, aren’t going on summer abroad courses—they’re out there having those adventures on their own. So maybe the unaccounted-for students that should be enrolled in summer abroad courses are still having their summers abroad, just not through CC.

But if it’s not the changing CC student, then maybe it’s the changing professor.

Faculty members submit proposals for summer abroad courses they want to teach in September. If the Summer Session office approves the course in October, registration for the class opens just after Thanksgiving.

But planning and organizing a summer block abroad is a full-time job for professors to take on in addition to their normal course load.

“You have to be willing to work 12 months out of the year, keeping up with people, 500 hours of planning during the school year, and then two months to do the program in summer,” Bizzarro said. “Past professors have done that. Some of the new ones are willing to do that . . . some.”

Heald, an English major, doesn’t recall seeing posters around Armstrong advertising summer courses, like there have been in past years. In fact, most of the summer block abroad posters were put up in the hallways and stairwells of Armstrong on Wednesday.

Thirty years ago the summer blocks abroad program basically consisted of Sal Bizzarro’s programs. After leading the same Italian language course for twenty years, he taught his last summer block in 2011.

Andrea Righi, Associate Professor of Italian, was scheduled to lead the same course this summer, but had to postpone it. Having never taught a summer block abroad, he found the challenge formidable, but possible.

“That was going to be a huge effort on my side. I’m on for six blocks of the year, and then summer is usually for research, or writing, or travel. But because language enrollments, overall, are not great, I thought this was the right thing to do,” Righi said.

Successful, continual classes like Sal Bizzarro’s, which had over 60 students at one point, operate under one guiding principle: connection.

Professors stressed the important of establishing relationships with the local community of the country they are teaching in—small business owners, university professors, host families, government officials, restaurant owners, tour-bookers—and then maintaining those relationships all throughout the year.

“One: you have to do it every year. Two: you have to send Christmas gifts to people you know, bring babies presents, write cards to secretaries—establish a connection. Three: you treat the students you bring with tremendous respect for what they’re going through,” explained Kathy Bizzarro.

Besides maintaining international relations, professors must establish themselves and their course on campus before students tend to sign up. Murray’s art history class doesn’t fulfill any all-campus requirements, but after 14 years, it’s established and well known on campus.

“Language teachers have to teach two to four blocks on campus before students will go abroad with them. Anyone who isn’t teaching two blocks of basic language can’t stay connected with what Americans go through to learn a new language,” Bizzarro said.

Economics and Business Professor Mark Smith is co-leading “Himalayan Odyssey: Culture, Conservation and Change among the Sherpa of Nepal” with Brot Coburn, who has decades of experience in Nepal.

This is Smith’s first year teaching a summer block abroad, but Coburn’s fourth time on the trip since he developed it. Smith elected to do the program, and believes it is successful, in large part due to Coburn’s experience and connections.

“He knows people. From Buddhist monks, to people who run hydro-projects, to local authorities . . . it’s because of his connections that [students are] actually getting to trek with the Nepalese,” Smith explained.

From the beginning, Smith knew he was going to have to be proactive about attracting students to his Himalayan adventure, and now that CC is in the full swing of second semester, Smith is on “marketing offense”—including strategically placing posters next to the CC climbing wall.

It’s no longer enough to just wait for students to sign up.

The last hypothesis, which professors were hesitant to address, is part of a much larger question: How can CC blocks and semesters abroad survive in the shadow of established, well-endowed university abroad programs?

According to Aimee Foster, staff assistant to Eric Popkin, Associate Dean of Global, Community, and Summer Programs, courses without sufficient enrollment by the end of February will have to be canceled.

“It is hard to make the numbers work. It’s expensive,” Righi concluded. “Our job is to bring people here, but it’s also to send people out there.”

Erica Plumlee

News Editor

 

 

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