Tight budget forces college to discontinue study abroad program | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tight budget forces college to discontinue study abroad program

Parker Allen Dial
Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Mandi Olsen should be going to to Costa Rica for a month to study sea turtles and volcanoes in their natural environment.

The Lake Tahoe Community College education major was excited for the opportunity to visit a new country and pursue her education. Born and raised in California, Olsen, 23, has never travelled farther than the Bay Area.

But she’s not going to Costa Rica.

Olsen’s trip is one of the many casualties of LTCC’s reduced budget and the elimination of the International Studies program.

“This trip had opened a door for me which has recently been slammed shut in my face because of this,” she said. “I’ve never been anywhere outside of here, and I’m furious that this opportunity has been taken from me.”

California’s budget crisis has schools across California scaling back and cutting out programs like international studies, art, physical education and music.

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“We are hunkering down and being forced to only offer the bare bones to our students,” Diane Rosner, Dean of Humanities at Lake Tahoe Community College said. “We are being forced to ask ourselves questions about what the bare minimum we can survive on is.”

The budget the school is receiving doesn’t come close to covering what the school needs, Rosner said. The college’s final budget for the 2009/10 school year was about $16.8 million, said Susan Middleton, the school’s interim vice president of academic affairs and student services. The school’s tentative budget for the 2010/11 school year is about $16.4 million, a reduction of $453,499.

The International Education program cost $47,065 in 2009/10, Middleton said.

“Our core is the first thing that must be protected in order for us to survive. Microscopes and computers must come first.” Rosner said.

The goals of Lake Tahoe Community College had to be prioritized in order for it to maintain its mission, which is first and foremost career training, then preparing students for transfer to a four-year university, and basic life enrichment skills, Rosner added.

Jen Spina, the former head of International studies at Lake Tahoe Community College doesn’t think that the program had the time it needed to prosper, let alone survive the dire financial times the state is going through.

To support the program, more international students must come from abroad to study at LTCC, Spina said. International students must be full-time students, and also have to pay international fees, which for the college means money.

A California resident pays $17 per unit, a good neighbor from Nevada pays $28 dollars each unit, and international and out of state students pays $156 per unit. Each student coming from abroad must pay at least $1,872 per quarter.

“The board gave us a year to recruit more international students, ones coming in from abroad who pay these fees basically fund the entire department,” Spina said. “They are the ones we need to keep this alive, but one year simply wasn’t enough time to get everything together and put enough of a word out.”

The program has two students coming from abroad for the fall quarter, Rosner said.

Rosner agrees that there wasn’t enough time for the program to succeed, but that’s all the time that the school could afford due to the budget crisis.

“This program, which I am a founding member of, could have survived on life support if we would have had five (students),” Rosner said. “If we had 10 (students) this entire program would be back on its feet, thriving even.”

More students would have required a department to handle the logistics, Rosner said.

“Its frustrating because if we weren’t in such a crisis the college council could have stepped back and possibly allowed for more time to spread the word and advertise so that the program could grow to where it needs to be,” she said.

Other schools like Truckee Meadows Community College are finding ways to keep study abroad programs alive.

The program at TMCC has survived because the college made cuts across the board, instead of cutting an entire department, said Melanie Lawler, head of the Nevada college’s international education program.

“These programs are important, they’re life changing and it doesn’t benefit the student to deprive them of the diversity and experiences they receive overseas.” Lawler said.

For her part, Olsen feels deprived of the opportunity to study abroad.

“My door is now shut to do something like this, for now,” she said. “Without the guidance and safety, or the cheapness that travelling with a program like this offered me, I’m screwed.”