Study abroad program falls victim to budget cuts

Julie George

Sydney Waterhouse chose DVC instead of going straight to a four-year college, so she could go to London fall semester 2008 in its Study Abroad program.

“The experience is like none other,” said Waterhouse, who now attends San Diego State University and is still close to many of the people she met during that semester.

More than 1,000 DVC students have studied in London since the program began in 1986, according to the DVC website. It later expanded to Paris and Florence in alternating spring semesters.

But DVC faculty members only recently learned college district officials had pulled the plug on London and Paris, leaving intact only the Florence program.

And they are not happy to have been left out of the decision-making process.

“Shouldn’t faculty be making decisions around what is essentially an academic program,” said Judy Myers, an English professor and study abroad faculty member.

Laurie Lema, president of the Faculty Senate agreed, “As an academic program, faculty should be involved in decision making – not told after it’s been made.

“It’s a district program, so it gets a little more complicated.”

The decision “to suspend the district’s fall 2010 London Study Abroad program due to declining enrollment” was made by “consensus” at an October meeting of Chancellor Helen Benjamin and her cabinet of district officials and college presidents, according to a link to “Cabinet Highlights” in the district’s online November newsletter.

Benjamin could not be reached for comment.

Alex Ilich, the district’s director of international education, said London was the priciest program for students and participating teachers had failed to recruit the required minimum of 20 students for the past three years.

“How do you offer a London class with 13 students, when you can’t here for 30 students?” Illich said.

Florence, however, was the most popular program and there was never a problem with recruiting students, Illich said.

The Contra Costa Community College District belongs to the Northern California Study Abroad Consortium, which also includes San Mateo, Santa Rosa and Los Rios districts.

Ilich downplayed the significance of the decision to pull out of the London and Paris programs.

“Rumors tend to have a life of their own,” he said.

Students who attend schools within the consortium can still spend a semester in London or Paris. The difference, he said, is the Contra Costa district will not send its teachers and courses there.

Ellen Kruse, interim dean of business and English, said faculty had been working on ways to boost enrollment when the announcement was made.

“Certainly more consultation with the faculty before the decision came out would have helped,” said Kruse, who has taught in the London program. “[The] administration could have easily explained their plan, but there was no discussion.”

Students and faculty said the Study Abroad program is a life-changing experience.

DVC student Rainer Reglos, 21, who attended the London program in fall 2008, said he is “very thankful” to have seen things many others may not in their lifetimes.

Political science professor Dorrie Mazzone, who taught in the Florence program last spring, also highly recommends the experience.

“It’s a great way to experience other cultures with students from all over the world,” she said.