International students frustrated by fees

Shivali Pabari knew that studying abroad at Cal State Long Beach would be expensive, and she has paid her way without complaint.

But now, with just weeks until her return home, she feels taken advantage of by one fee too many.

In addition to travel costs, expensive medical insurance and the price of campus housing, international students attending CSULB on a semester exchange program must pay a $200 cancellation fee to break their housing contract, according to the CSULB website.

“We chose this school for a reason; we came all the way here, and I just think they would appreciate that,” Pabari said. “For the price we pay, it would just be considerate to make an exception.”

Pabari, a senior international business major from England, said she received a letter from the Study Abroad Office instructing her to provide proof that she was attending the school for only a semester in order to avoid the cancellation penalty.

“The housing office said that we would have to pay the fee no matter what the abroad office said,” Pabari said. “It caused a lot of confusion. They told us about the cancellation policy in the beginning, but a lot of us thought we were exempt.”

Pabari said that her reaction would be different if she knew what the money was being used for.

“Nothing in the [International House] is renovated, couches are old, everything is old compared to the other dorms,” Pabari said. “I don’t see where the money goes. What is the fee for? All they are doing is making the room available for students in the spring.”

All students applying for campus housing in the fall must sign a year-long license agreement in order to live on campus, even if they know they are only studying here for one semester, according to the CSULB website. Students arriving in the spring only have to sign a semester-long contract and do not have to pay the fee unless they leave mid-semester.

Education Abroad Adviser Jennifer Orem, who works directly with incoming exchange students, declined repeated requests for comment.

Assistant Director for Education Abroad Cecilia Fidora said that she was unaware that semester exchange students had to pay the fee.

“To me, it seems like charging $200 to cancel might deter students from living here,” Fidora said. “Hopefully it wouldn’t stop students from studying here. I think it would be very generous to allow an exception [for exchange students] in order to encourage internationalization. I would hope the dorms think that’s a valid reason.”

Fidora also said that students coming from abroad would prefer on-campus housing.

“To come here with no car and no friends and not even know where you are going to live is really intimidating,” Fidora said. “Being on campus is so much more convenient.”

Director of Housing and Residential Life Carol Roberts-Corb said that the fee has been in place throughout the four years she has worked at CSULB and that they try to make their policy as consistent and clear as possible.

“It’s on the application, it’s on the license agreement that you sign, it’s on the two emails we send over the summer so that you know what you’re getting into,” Roberts-Corb said. “We try. We inform that office [Education Abroad]. If they don’t do a great job of informing the rest of their staff then … There is only so much you can do.”

More students leave campus housing in the fall than apply for housing in the spring, according to Roberts-Corb.

“We want to show empathy to students, but we also need to, as best as we can, maintain our occupancy because that’s how we survive,” Roberts-Corb said. “We don’t get funding from the university. We survive purely on the revenue we get from the students.”

Jared Chappell, a senior with a double major in psychology and financial management from Australia, said he also thinks there should be an exception.

“If I really try hard to rationalize, I can understand it,” Chappell said. “It’s no secret budgets are being cut every year, but it still feels like an arbitrary penalty. They knew we would be leaving ahead of time.”

Matthew Sousa contributed to this report.

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