The merits of international joint and dual degree programs

Photo: Meilan Solly

As a freshman at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., I immersed myself in the school’s small liberal arts community. I became chief staff writer of the student newspaper, covering everything from student government meetings to fashion shows; bonded with my hallmates during late-night discussions in our communal lounge; and fell in love with the unique character of my school, as represented by eerie bursts of cannon fire that typify a day in Colonial Williamsburg. After eight months of calling William and Mary home, I departed for the summer knowing that I wouldn’t return until senior year.

You might think the question “Where do you go to school?” is a simple one. For me, the answer always devolves into a convoluted explanation. I am a member of the University of St. Andrews/William and Mary Joint Degree Programme, which links a 600-year-old Scottish school with one of America’s oldest universities. Collectively, students in the program are known as WaMStAs (short for William and Mary/St Andrews students). We are unique in that we split our university years between two schools: I spent freshman year at William and Mary and just returned from sophomore year at St. Andrews. I will return to St. Andrews for junior year and end college back at William and Mary. Upon graduation, I will receive a Bachelor of Arts (International Honors) degree with the insignia of both universities.

Defining joint and dual degree programs

The St. Andrews/William and Mary program is part of a growing trend in international joint or dual degree programs offered by undergraduate and graduate institutions. In 2014, the American Council on Education surveyed 134 institutions, and 89 provided specific information about joint or dual degree programs offered by their schools.

Typically, joint and dual degree programs allow students to spend part of their university career abroad at a “host” institution and their remaining years at a “home” institution. These partner schools create a curriculum that highlights both of their strengths and help students take full advantage of the resources offered by each institution, including faculty and research opportunities. Programs encompass a variety of majors, including business, engineering and social sciences.

Upon graduation, joint degree students receive one degree endorsed by each institution, while dual degree students receive a degree from each school. As opposed to typical study abroad programs, which allow students to spend a semester overseas, joint and dual degree programs give students the opportunity to spend a year or two abroad and become a full member of two university communities.

You might think the question “Where do you go to school?” is a simple one. For me, the answer always devolves into a convoluted explanation.

Notably, enrollment in these programs is dominated by international students. ACE found that about a third of responding programs included U.S. and foreign students, while four percent enrolled only U.S. students.

Aside from the St. Andrews/William and Mary program, there are many well-known universities with international programs. For example, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers an undergraduate joint degree program with the National University of Singapore, and the University of California, Berkeley has a dual degree program with Sciences Po in France. At the graduate level, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs has dual degree programs with universities including the London School of Economics and the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Public Policy.

Daniel Obst, deputy vice president of International Partnerships in Higher Education, explains that international programs are attractive because they present an opportunity for “immersive engagement with another country and another culture,” as opposed to a shorter experience with typical study abroad programs.

Photo: Meilan Solly

I chose to become a WaMStA for a variety of reasons. I have always loved the United Kingdom, and I knew that I wanted to study abroad in college. A semester didn’t seem like a long enough time to truly immerse myself in another country, so I enrolled in a program that would allow me to have an extended study abroad experience and a highly atypical college career. I took many other factors into consideration, including the chance to learn two different academic styles and travel opportunities granted by Scotland’s proximity to mainland Europe, but the most pertinent one for this column is the financial side of joint and dual degree programs.

The financial aspects of international programs

At first glance, it may seem like enrolling in the St. Andrews/William and Mary program was one of the worst financial decisions of my life. As an in-state student who began college in the 2014-2015 school year, I would be paying $32,750 in tuition and fees, room and board, and miscellaneous living expenses if I were attending just William and Mary. Instead, I’m paying the program fee of $55,654 (including travel and personal living expenses). Luckily, I have a generous financial aid package that allows me to pay about the same amount for the program as I would to attend William and Mary.

Out-of-state WaMStAs may actually be better off financially than those enrolled at William and Mary, at least when going by the sticker price quoted online. Out-of-state William and Mary tuition for students entering in the 2016-2017 school year and beyond is $57,436. Out-of-state fees for the joint degree program are the same as in-state fees, which means some WaMStAs actually save about $1,782 per year by spending half of their college career abroad.

According to Obst, the trend represented by out-of-state WaMStAs’ costs is actually the norm for international programs. “What we normally see is that joint and double degree programs are not more expensive than regular programs,” he says.

This trend is also apparent in the Sciences Po-Berkeley partnership. Students in the program spend their freshman and sophomore years at Sciences Po and their remaining time at Berkeley. When they are at Sciences Po, they pay the same fees as any international student at the school, and while at Berkeley, they pay the university’s in-state or out-of-state rate.

A Sciences Po-Berkeley student who chooses to study at the Reims campus might find his or her total costs, including tuition, rent, travel and living expenses, around $18,000 to $22,000. Comparatively, the 2016-2017 in-state cost of attendance at Berkeley is $33,418, and the out-of-state cost is $60,100.

These are just two examples of fee structures in joint and dual degree programs. Another structure explained by Obst is one where students pay their home institution’s fees for the entirety of the program, regardless of whether they are currently at their home or host school.

The sticker price you’ll find on many programs’ websites don’t necessarily account for the entirety of costs associated with being abroad for an extended period of time, such as international airfare, travel fees for weekend or break trips, exchange rates and high costs of living.

The costs of joint and dual degree programs are offset by their academic, cultural and career-related benefits.

When looking at joint and dual degree programs, you should also consider financial aid. According to Obst, if you are enrolled in an accredited program at an institution in the U.S., federal financial aid should apply as it would to any other program. For example, in the Sciences Po-Berkeley program, students are eligible for the same financial aid as non-dual degree students on the campus they are physically attending.

The long-term benefits of joint and dual degree programs

Regardless of whether one ends up paying a higher or lower fee for extended time abroad, the costs of joint and dual degree programs are offset by their academic, cultural and career-related benefits.

I am halfway through my time as a WaMStA, and I have already experienced the advantages of spending two years abroad. During my sophomore year at St. Andrews, I met individuals from places as varied as Cornwall, England and Budapest, Hungary. These friends taught me about their cultures, plus the culture of my new host country, and offered perspectives I wouldn’t have heard at William and Mary. Academically, I learned to navigate the depth-based British system of learning and discovered a passion for art history. My time at St. Andrews has made me a more well-rounded, globally aware individual, and I know that these skills will be helpful once I enter the job market.

Dual degree students know that an international experience will open doors for them and set them apart in their career search.

Career-wise, Obst says that joint and dual degree programs are ideal for students who want to work internationally. He adds that having two schools on your resume shows you have experience in multiple countries and that you learned to look at issues through a global lens.

Robert Gleeson, academic coordinator of the Sciences Po-Berkeley program, points out that in addition to being prepared for the international business world, students in joint and dual degree programs have access to two alumni networks.

Joint and dual degree programs are not for everyone; they are challenging due to the realities of transitioning between two schools. However, if you are someone who wants to spend time abroad and perhaps work overseas post-graduation, or if you want a college experience that is far from the norm, they could be the perfect option for you.

As Gleeson says, “Dual degree students are adventuresome and willing to do the unconventional. These are students who are undaunted by the challenges of learning new languages and adapting to new culture. Dual degree students know that an international experience will open doors for them and set them apart in their career search.”

Note: This article has not been published previously.

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