UI Mexico/Canada program to be cut

BY JENNY EARL | JANUARY 26, 2012 7:20 AM

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University of Iowa students are declining to go to Canada or Mexico — even on the federal government's dime.

And now, budget cuts will end a program that has sent a grand total of six UI students to Canada and Mexico since 2001.

Offering UI students a stipend of $5,000 — a $2,000 increase from previous years — to study abroad in Mexico and Canada through a federal grant, the North American Environmental Journalism Project aims to increase movement between bordering countries.

"Students in Iowa have refused free money," said Lyombe Eko, a UI journalism associate professor and the director of the North American Environmental Journalism Project. "Each university has a quarter of students they can exchange — our students have not been performing."

The project is made up of seven different schools, two Canadian, two Mexican, and three from the United States.

The seven schools received $189,000 from the U.S. Department of Education Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education to run the project.

Specifically aimed at journalism students, the project allows students to pay the same tuition with the added $5,000 stipend and offers a direct transfer of credits, as long as one course is taken in journalism and mass communication and the student completes a specific project on water or environmental journalism.

Students from Mexico, Canada, and Puerto Rico have taken advantage of this opportunity, but the UI and University of New Mexico — another United States participant — aren't meeting their quota of students going to Canada or Mexico.

"My view is that [United State's students] don't consider Canada to be different from home, and, for that reason, they are more likely to choose other locations, or other exchange programs entirely, offered by their schools," said Terry Field, the head of the Mount Royal University Journalism Program in Calgary.

Program officials said the lack of participation in Mexico is due to safety reasons.

"We haven't had a problem with [student] interest — we've had a problem with the university's interest in taking students to Mexico," said Carolyn Gonzales, a University of New Mexico senior representative Communication and Marketing.

Field said Mount Royal University has always met its quotas of students sent to the United States and Mexico. It has also met — and even surpassed — the quota of Mexican students coming to Calgary.

"If we have money left in the project, we'll ask for an extension," Eko said about the program, which is set to end in July. "We'll ask the government for a 'no cost extension' so we can finish our exchange — the federal government isn't funding this anymore, so this project is being cut from the project of education."

Because of the lack of interest, students from Inter-American University of Puerto Rico have recently taken UI students' spots.

"It's more exotic to go to Spain or England," Eko said. "A lot of [students] don't appreciate the importance of this kind of exchange."

But at least one UI student said the lack of participation may be due to a lack of awareness.

"I guess it would depend on if I knew people or heard experiences of people that did it before," UI junior Ellen Havey said. "I'm a journalism student, but I've never heard about it."

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