Study abroad is not a program usually associated with community colleges.
“I never thought community colleges did that,” said student Victoria Martin, 32, of Herndon. “When I first started at NOVA, they didn’t offer any [traveling study programs] that I know of. . . . It makes a world of difference.”
Bolstering the visibility and availability of study abroad programs at NVCC has been a goal taken on within the past few years, said Paul McVeigh, associate vice president for global studies and programs at the school.
“Study abroad has really been focused on the individual [professor] and student interest in going abroad. . . . What we’ve done in the last couple years is to help facilitate and coordinate,” he said.
Students who take a study abroad course for credit pay the cost of the trip events, such as tours and visits organized under a group rate, plus airfare and tuition. For example, the Fiji trip cost students $2,500, plus airfare and four-credit hours at $128.65 per credit.
Launched during the recession, NVCC’s study abroad program faced obstacles such as students’ inability to pay for trips. Similarly, because of the diversity of students and needs on campus, NVCC has struggled to get the word out about study abroad offerings.
Some students, such as Burnett, utilize community colleges with the goal of taking core classes at a lower cost and then transferring to a four-year institution later. Burnett now is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh studying evolutionary biology.
Community colleges also host working students, older students who are continuing their education and a large number of part-time students. That diversity can cause the community college experience to feel more commuter-based than traditional college life, students said.
“At community college . . . you don’t really have that relationship with your professors and students,” Burnett said.
Martin agreed but said programs such as traveling or study abroad courses are helping enhance the community college experience. “A lot of the kids I went on the Rockies trip with, we still keep in touch,” she said. “It gives lifelong bonding opportunities that, at a community college-level, are hard to get.”
Burnett has traveled to the U.S. Rockies twice with a geology class during the summer. This year marks the first time the geology class will travel abroad, visiting the Canadian Rockies.
“Every year these kids tell us how awesome [the trip] is and that they want more,” geology professor Callan Bentley said. “It’s much more intuitive if students are there in person seeing these rocks in the field” rather than in photographs from a book.
“Last year a student wrote, ‘I learned more in those two weeks than I’ve ever learned in any other class ever,’ ” said Bentley, adding there is a demand for more traveling study opportunities at the college.