More American college students seek 4-year degrees overseas

Tuesday , April 24, 2012 - 10:19 AM

US NEWS CMP-OVERSEAS-DEGREES TB

loyola University law student Maggie O'Donoghue sitting at the library, April 12, 2012, in Chicago,...

Annemarie Mannion

Highly regarded American universities would have welcomed Nicoletta Knoble as a student next fall, but she has her sights set on King's College at Cambridge University in England.

The chance to study against a backdrop of elegant, Old World buildings amid a storied history was attractive to the senior from Benet Academy in Lisle, but shaving many thousands of dollars off her tuition bills was no small factor.

Attending school in England, where she will study anthropology and archaeology, means Knoble will spend about $26,000 on tuition and living expenses, about half the cost of some other schools she was considering -- which included the University of Chicago, the University of California at Berkeley, Syracuse University, New York University and Washington University.

"It's not that schools in Europe aren't expensive," she said. "But I will be getting a Cambridge University education for the same cost of going to (the University of Illinois). I'm getting so much more bang for my buck."

And there's a good chance Knoble will see peers from back home in her overseas classrooms. The number of Americans pursuing four-year degrees on foreign soil is on the rise, as students increasingly look to other countries for a relatively inexpensive alternative to U.S. schools while offering the same, if not more, prestige.

The interest in Americans attending foreign universities is mutual. More and more, schools abroad are coming to the United States to recruit.

Universities from the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Malaysia and China are among those working to woo Americans. A recently formed consortium of seven Irish universities, Education in Ireland, will recruit April 28 at an Oak Brook hotel, where prospective students will learn about the schools, dorm life, the social scene and finances.

Their parents may be interested to hear that some U.S. college savings and financial aid programs can be used to fund overseas education at schools with a federal Title IV code.

A U.S. clientele accustomed to footing college costs and declining birthrates in some European countries are, at least in part, fueling the recruiting efforts, said Patti McGill Peterson, presidential adviser for global initiatives at the American Council on Education, which represents the interests of college presidents and chancellors.

"With the population shift, they may have space in their classrooms," she said. And unlike some Europeans, "Americans are used to paying for education."

Though costs vary by country, McGill Peterson said many nations subsidize education significantly. Irish students pay no tuition at Irish colleges and universities. But they pay a student fee that covers registration and other services and tops out at $2,616.

Though Josephine Knoble will miss her daughter, she's excited about her opportunity to travel, the cultural advantages and the relatively low cost.

"American schools were all in the $50,000 and $60,000 range," she said. "She'll be in Europe, and you can't put a price on that. She will have access to travel to all those other countries. Paris is three hours away."

Michelle Dervan, manager of Education in Ireland-USA, said its prospective students tend to be those who feel comfortable going off the beaten track.

"It's not for every student, to go abroad for three or four years," she said. "They're (typically) an adventurous student and they want to go overseas or they have a family link or a fascination with Ireland."

Such was the case for Maggie O'Donoghue, of Chicago, a graduate of St. Ignatius College Prep who got her degree at Trinity College Dublin. She wasn't worried about being far from home because she had visited Ireland before. Her father, who is from Ireland, is a general contractor. Her mother is a nurse.

For O'Donoghue, cost played a role. She considered Boston College but said it would have cost $50,000 a year versus $35,000 to attend Trinity.

O'Donoghue graduated from Trinity with a bachelor's degree in European studies, Spanish and Italian. Now in law school at Loyola University Chicago, she already sees an advantage to her European degree.

When employers view her resume, she said, "It's always a point they bring up. They think it's interesting. They think this person must be independent and must be able to think out of the box a little bit."

Conor Dowdall 21, a Loyola Academy graduate studying computer science at University College Dublin, acknowledges having been a bit homesick when he first arrived in Ireland. But he got over it.

"During those first few months, I missed my family, home and friends," he said. "But I think that is fairly normal for most American college-bound students, and in the end, it made me stronger and more independent."

He need not look far for American company. The Institute of International Education, which promotes educational exchange and training, reports that more than 43,000 American students are enrolled in academic degree programs in 13 countries it surveyed this year. Thirty-nine percent of those students are in undergraduate programs, 44 percent are in master's programs and 17 percent are pursuing doctoral degrees.

The number of American students studying in Ireland over the last decade rose from 2,521 in the 2001-02 school year to 4,363 this year, Dervan said. That includes study-abroad, undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral students.

Other countries also report increases. At the Ecole Hoteliere Lausanne, which teaches hospitality management in Switzerland, there were three American students enrolled in 2006-07. Today there are 84.

Lucila Perez Mollo, director of admissions and recruitment, expects the number will continue to rise as recruitment efforts increase. Recruiters used to spend three weeks in the U.S.; now they spend seven.

Rajika Bhandari, director of the Institute of International Education's Center for Mobility Research, said it surveyed 500 institutions from around the world and found 75 percent were interested in attracting American students for full degrees. Even China is seeking to recruit Americans.

"The Chinese government has made significant advancement in offering full scholarship for full degree studies," Bhandari said. "The number of scholarships has gone up."

A little closer to home, Joe Lewnard, who graduated from Fremd High School in Palatine, is in his third year at McGill University in Montreal.

Originally, he chose the school to study with a teacher who specializes in the recorder. He has since shifted his major to geography and is learning to adapt in the city where English isn't the only official language.

"I didn't speak any French when I arrived here, but by my second year, I started making friends that I speak exclusively French with," he said.

He wants to study medicine and believes a degree from McGill, which was founded as a medical school, will not be a problem because the school is well-known in the U.S., he said.

A research grant pays $11,000 of his $16,000 annual tuition, he said.

Kim Bartlett, director of admissions at McGill, said the relatively low cost and nearness to the U.S. draws students. Americans at McGill number about 2,366, or about 6.5 percent of the enrollment of about 36,000.

Even at the lower costs, students who know what major they want to pursue overseas may have a better experience, said Letizia Caulfield, a "fresher" -- aka freshman -- at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Studying abroad can offer the advantage of taking classes in a chosen field right away, unlike many American schools that require freshmen to pursue general courses of study.

Caulfield is already taking classes in her modern languages major. There is not a lot of time for dithering.

"I think it's a great place if you know what you want to do," said Caulfield, a Benet Academy graduate.

She said she loves being in the historic setting on the North Sea, where the history stretches back centuries, in an area that may be mostly known by Americans for its golf courses.

"It's crazy to think most of the buildings on campus are older than the U.S.," she said. "The university is 600 years old. There are the ruins of a cathedral here."

She likes the long-held traditions at St. Andrews, including when students don red gowns and walk along a pier on the sea.

That type of unique cultural experience is what Knoble is looking for at Cambridge.

Although she was a cheerleader at Benet for two years, Knoble said she won't miss going to football games and other staples of the social life at many American universities.

"I'm looking forward to new traditions that will be offered to me," Knoble said. "It won't be that all-American experience, but that is not what I was looking for."

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(c)2012 the Chicago Tribune

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