Study Abroad May Have Foreign Consequences

My wife was aghast when she read the letter from the University of St. Thomas. Our son, it said, was about to lose his scholarship. That would mean $16,700 down the drain. We knew that the young man was immensely enjoying his junior year abroad in Australia. We didn’t know that his grades were suffering in the process.

We should have had an inkling of academic decline, however, when he bragged on social media that his Aussie college mates had crowned him Pub Crawl King—an achievement for having had 21 drinks in 21 pubs one evening. Up until getting that letter, though, our chief concern was making sure he’d board the plane to come home. Minnesota couldn’t match Australia’s beaches or the legal drinking age of 18, but it was home, and his family missed him.

Paula Benson, associate director of the St. Thomas financial aid office, reminded us that the terms of Oliver’s scholarship required him to maintain a grade point average of at least 3.0 each semester. It didn’t matter if he attended class in Sydney or St. Paul. The criteria for renewing the scholarship were outlined in the award letter he received before starting his freshman year.

College financial aid comes with strings attached. All institutions are required to have policies in place that detail what students must do to achieve Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP), which would allow them to continue receiving aid each term. Carly Eichhorst, director of financial aid at Augsburg College, noted that the Regents’ Scholarship awarded by the Minneapolis school requires students to earn credits at an acceptable level toward graduation and maintain a GPA of 2.0 each semester. The Augsburg renewable scholarship is worth up to $18,000 annually.

Eichhorst warned that students must be “savvy when studying abroad,” as foreign institutions have their own methods of measuring academic achievement. She urges students to work closely with the study abroad office of their home school to make sure both grades and credits get applied properly. Her office recognizes that evaluating academic work varies widely from country to country, so their school uses a “pass/no pass system in transferring academic work from foreign institutions toward an Augsburg degree.”

Benson said that Oliver’s Australian college, the University of New South Wales, had evaluated the quality of his course work there, and St. Thomas believed that it had fallen below the scholarship threshold. “No worries,” our son assured us via Skype. “There must be a mistake.” Despite the partying, he insisted that he was maintaining his grades. He would look into the problem and sort it out.

Weeks of back and forth internationally between academic advisors at both universities resulted in the following conclusion: after translating his Australian grades into St. Thomas credits, Oliver’s GPA came in at 3.02. As parents we could have done without the anxiety, but what a relief! The scholarship would be restored. Our son’s comment on returning home from his year Down Under: “Had I known I had an extra .02 to spare, I would have enjoyed myself even more.”