This academic year, Penn Global implemented a new policy that lets students take Penn Global Seminars for a flat fee, which students say has helped increase transparency and financial accessibility.
Since Fall 2018, students have had to pay a $950 program fee to attend any Penn Global Seminar, a course that includes a brief travel component during winter, spring, or summer break. In previous years, the program fee was lower but did not include travel expenses or meals, creating uncertainty regarding the actual cost of the program. Penn Global Seminars Manager Laurie Jensen said the flat fee was instituted to give students more clarity about how much they would have to pay for the seminars.
College junior Xin Liu, who said she is a "highly-aided" student, took a Penn Global Seminar on traditional Chinese medicine this past fall and traveled to Shanghai over winter break. She praised the flat fee policy for giving students financial security.
“I personally think it's a good idea because plane tickets can have very volatile pricing and this flat fee ensures some security in that regard," Liu said. “Not all students would have the experience or resources to get the best price possible for plane tickets, and this takes care of the work for you, so that students don't have to worry about that factor financially.”
Liu added that the flat fee includes amenities that students might not buy for themselves, providing comfort and security at a reasonable price.
“Not only is the flat fee super comprehensive, we stayed at a really nice hotel and ate at really great restaurants so we always felt very comfortable and well taken care of," Liu said. "A student traveling on a budget might not be able to experience such luxury and peace of mind otherwise.”
College and Engineering junior Cindy Luo, who has taken three Penn Global Seminars, said the new flat fee policy also helps logistically by allowing everyone to take the same flight instead of searching for the cheapest plane tickets.
“It's difficult to coordinate everyone's plans and schedules if the students were to purchase the tickets themselves," Luo said.
Jensen said the flat fee policy has helped make Penn Global Seminars more accessible — students who previously might have avoided the courses because of uncertain costs are now more inclined to take them.
“The percentage of applicants who receive financial aid has increased to 66%,” Jensen said. “We attribute these numbers in part to the ability to make students aware of the cost of participation well in advance, in many cases over a year before they even apply to the program, so that they can start planning accordingly.”
To further promote accessibility, the University offers additional financial aid to partially cover Penn Global Seminar costs. According to the Penn Global website, Student Registration & Financial Services adds Penn Global Seminar fees to students' cost of attendance, which increases eligibility for financial aid, and augments parent contributions by 5%, covering any remaining need with 40% loans and 60% grants.
Luo, who described herself as a highly-aided student, said the flat fee policy has made it easier to coordinate financial aid for Penn Global Seminars. When students previously bought their own plane tickets, SRFS did not know what their total program costs were.
“As a student who took global seminars before Fall 2018, this flat fee policy was not in place, and it was difficult to coordinate with Financial Services because sometimes they weren't even sure how much funding or aid I would be allocated for the seminar,” Luo said.
College senior Andres Fernandez Pallares said Penn should advertise the availability of financial aid for special programs like Penn Global Seminars, as many students are unaware they can receive aid for these programs.
“I think that transparency and communication are some of the things that Penn can improve on,” Pallares said.
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