Calvin cuts Netherlands semester program
After a three-year trial period, Calvin’s planning and priorities committee (PPC) discontinued the Netherlands semester program, an off-campus semester designed to facilitate the demanding core requirements of engineering students.
The PPC, which determines the long-term goals of the college, was presented with an audit of the Netherlands program in September and informed faculty senate of its decision on Monday night.
The audit cited both financial and curricular concerns as reasons for the decision. Visas to the Netherlands are expensive, as are housing and tuition costs at the Free University (VU) where students attend classes.
Curricular issues cited by the audit include a limited number of English language classes provided by VU, and the difficulties of students adjusting to European educational styles.
Professor Robert Hoeksema, chair of the semester in the Netherlands oversight committee, helped create the program and was “quite disappointed” with the decision.
“As a committee, we were never consulted in the process of making the final decision,” he said. “We were the group that had the greatest vested interest in this. [We] would have provided the most positive support for it, and they didn’t talk to us.”
Hoeksema said he understood the financial concerns, but that PPC did not receive adequate information, making the decision too simple.
“This is an easy first program to cut because it’s an identifiable cost and no one loses their job,” he said.
The semester is the most expensive offered by Calvin at about $25,000 for the entire trip (tuition, room and board, travel expenses and excursions). Students are expected to pay this figure in full, with the college making adjustments to their financial aid accordingly.
Don De Graaf, director of off-campus programs, said that he was concerned with the additional loans some students required for the Netherlands program.
“We are still called to be stewardly and decide, ‘is this the best opportunity.’ Maybe we can find something that is better value for students that they still want,” said De Graaf.
De Graaf enumerated that when students stay on campus, they are helping to pay for the community, including its professors, its staff and the very programs that it sometimes has to cut. When a professor leaves to direct the program, that professor is absent from teaching any classes on campus (though the director’s salary is reduced to 45 percent of his or her annual salary).
“It’s cheaper for us to educate a student on campus than it is off campus,” said De Graaf, adding that combined with the curricular issues of the program and the timing of the audit, it made the program vulnerable to cuts.
Hoeksema was not entirely convinced with the severity of the issues. He said the engineering department was resolving some curricular issues with a sister interim course to the program, and that most of these concerns were not financially burdensome.
Off-campus programs reduce the amount of income Calvin would otherwise receive in tuition.
“It’s not that different from a student taking a couple of classes at CC,” said Hoeksema.
The audit also fails to mention the attractiveness of the program for recruiting purposes. Engineering students must adhere to a very specific set of course requirements, making off-campus experiences difficult to fit in.
The engineering department chair, Professor Leonard De Rooy, spoke of the recruiting efforts the department had participated in prior to the cancellation in a letter to PPC.
“The international programs were discussed in our engineering at Calvin Fridays events, along with promotional material on the website and brochure packets given to potential students,” wrote De Rooy.
The letter specifies that at least four engineering students were planning on attending the program in the spring of 2014.
One of those students, freshman Kevin Kredit, turned down a scholarship to do a summer semester in Germany because he felt the Netherlands semester was a better opportunity.
“This program is part of what attracted me to Calvin in the first place, and I am very sad that it’s gone,” he said.
Another engineer, freshman Hanfei Niu, was also planning on participating in the program in the spring of 2014. She said that she was really looking forward to exploring the culture of the Netherlands and tackling the difficulties it would bring.
Niu said that funding the trip was never a problem for her and that she was “really upset” upon learning of the cancellation.
“I still hope this program is saved so that the students who are interested in this program, like me, can have a chance to experience this wonderful trip,” said Niu.
Calvin will also be evaluating other off-campus semesters in the future.
“We’re drawing back a bit now,” said De Graaf, referring to off-campus programs. He suggested that there may be some restructuring of many off-campus semesters, like going every other year instead of every year, but he also assured students that the college views off-campus education as an important part of Calvin’s mission.
“I hope that in two or three years we will be in a stronger place where we can say, ‘where are the gaps,’ and create some new programs.”