Study abroad classes no longer count toward Vanderbilt GPA

All undergraduate study abroad programs except for Maymesters are removed from GPA calculations

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Study abroad classes no longer count toward Vanderbilt GPA

A table at a Maymester fair. Class grades on abroad Maymesters are the only kind of abroad credit which will count towards Vanderbilt GPA. (Photo by Emily Gonçalves)

A table at a Maymester fair. Class grades on abroad Maymesters are the only kind of abroad credit which will count towards Vanderbilt GPA. (Photo by Emily Gonçalves)

Emily Gonçalves

A table at a Maymester fair. Class grades on abroad Maymesters are the only kind of abroad credit which will count towards Vanderbilt GPA. (Photo by Emily Gonçalves)

Emily Gonçalves

Emily Gonçalves

A table at a Maymester fair. Class grades on abroad Maymesters are the only kind of abroad credit which will count towards Vanderbilt GPA. (Photo by Emily Gonçalves)

Will Fritzler, Staff Writer

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Maymesters will not count towards Vanderbilt GPA. Maymester grades will count towards Vanderbilt GPA. 

A policy change initiated this fall by the Office of the Provost and implemented by the Global Education Office (GEO) will fundamentally alter study abroad at Vanderbilt in two ways: classes taken abroad no longer counts toward Vanderbilt GPA, and students can no longer design their own study abroad programs without GEO approval.

The Office of the Provost made these changes primarily to comply with new standards established by Vanderbilt’s accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). SACSCOC revised its rules on how member institutions should handle direct credit, or academic credit granted by the university that appears as university credit on the student transcript.

Prior to this academic year, Vanderbilt treated GEO-administered study abroad as direct credit, which factors into Vanderbilt GPA, but SACSCOC’s new standards would require Vanderbilt to conduct extensive audits of all overseas instructors to maintain its direct credit policy for study abroad. Beginning with students abroad in fall 2019, GEO programs yield a new form of credit called “Study Abroad/Away Credit,” which appears on transcripts as Vanderbilt credit and is converted to a Vanderbilt letter grade that doesn’t count towards Vanderbilt GPA. Prior to the change, Vanderbilt was just one of four private schools among the 62 universities of the Association of American Universities (AAU) that used direct credit for study abroad.

“The faculty at Vanderbilt have long wanted to ensure that students studying abroad remained academically focused,” Associate Dean of the College of Arts & Science Dan Morgan said.

The switch to Study Abroad/Away Credit that still includes a Vanderbilt grade on the transcript allows Vanderbilt to reinforce some academic focus and still be in compliance with our SASCOC, Morgan said.

Although GEO implements the policy change, study abroad pursued outside GEO, such as programs designed by students and programs not approved by GEO and requiring a leave of absence, are also affected by this transition. Non-GEO summer programs like the London School of Economics are unaffected, because they’re treated as transfer credit which already doesn’t count towards a student’s Vanderbilt GPA. 

However, students can no longer receive credit for non-GEO programs during the academic year, neither for programs that students design nor for programs through other institutions that Vanderbilt hasn’t approved. In other words, the policy change requires all academic year study abroad to be administered by GEO and thus be subject to the new GPA policy. Summer study abroad can either be on GEO programs count as Study Abroad/Away Credit or on non-GEO programs and count as transfer credit, both of which are excluded from GPA. Maymesters, however, are counted as regular Vanderbilt credit and do factor into Vanderbilt GPA.

Students can still study abroad through not-yet-approved programs by petitioning their undergraduate college for approval, but GEO must administer the program and the program will be subject to this new GPA policy.

In addition to easing compliance with SACSCOC standards, the GPA change addresses both cultural differences in teaching and grading which make grades more unpredictable, and a desire to make challenging immersive experiences more accessible.

“In the past, students who undertook some of the most challenging immersive experiences have much less intuitive understanding of that academic culture, how professors grade papers, how grades are gonna turn out,” GEO Director Arik Ohnstad said. “Those students often had a high anxiety level under the old system. Students will feel less anxious about taking courses and doing programs that are more difficult.”

GEO considered making the decision to count abroad classes towards Vanderbilt GPA an option for students, similar to how students can currently choose to take pass/fail classes. But after consulting with the registrar’s office and individual colleges, it proved too difficult to implement given the different registration periods and systems that each study abroad program uses.

Morgan explained the decision to remove academic year programs not administered by GEO from study abroad credit eligibility in terms of both equity and safety. Now that study abroad during the academic year must be done through GEO, students can receive Vanderbilt financial aid in all programs, whereas in the past, students studying in non-GEO programs had to pay out of pocket.

Study abroad through GEO also allows the university to provide health and emergency evacuation insurance to students, while some students in outside programs weren’t adequately covered while abroad.

“Frankly, we have long had concerns about the safety of our students on non-VU programs, and I am much relieved by this change,” Morgan said.

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