In this second installment of our “Ask the Experts” series, we’re taking a look at the proposal planning process for short-term study abroad trips. We’ll discuss a basic timeline for program development, pre-proposal to-dos, and key topics to discuss with your provider.

To offer a well-rounded view of faculty-led program planning best practices, we spoke with three professionals who each play a different role in developing international programs: Mayumi Nakamura, Interim Director of International Programs at Randolph-Macon College; Dr. Brandon Cromer, Biology professor at Augusta University; and Jenny Burkholder, a Study Tour Coordinator with 20 years’ experience at FTI.

Our Experts: Mayumi Nakamura, Dr. Brandon Cromer & Jenny Burkholder

How far in advance would you recommend brainstorming for a new faculty-led program proposal, and why? 

Nakamura: Our proposals are due 15 months prior to travel and it is even too late if you are just getting started then. Our faculty members usually start thinking about their programs about 2 years or more in advance to make the proposal deadlines.

We require faculty to state clearly a connection between the course objectives and the travel site(s).Our faculty members also coordinate with others in their department to create a rotation among themselves. This helps them avoid overlaps and increase the chances of their program getting approved. The Study/Travel Course Committee (STCC) strives to provide as many detailed proposal guidelines as possible to respect our faculty’s time and hard work from the beginning (rather than having them put all the work & then find out that their course is unlikely to get approved). Faculty members would also want to start early to talk with a program provider several months before the proposal is due to allow time to explore possibilities and receive quotes. They would also want to plant the seeds to gauge the level of interest from the student population.

All the pieces have to come together. It’s a fine balance – it’s hard to invest too much before you know whether your course can be approved or not, but at the same time, you must have sufficient information and clear ideas to present on your proposals and explore your student interest level.

Cromer: I usually start brainstorming/planning a trip about 2 years in advance.  Proposals for study abroad programs are due April 1 each year – this is for programs that would travel the following fall, spring, or summer sessions.  There is usually at least a year between the approval and taking the trip at Augusta University.  So, if you work backward from there, the planning and proposal writing will take at least six months.  I believe you need at least a year and a half.

Burkholder:  1.5 – 2 years.  I say this far in advance, because choosing a co-leader, establishing objectives, working through program details, brainstorming a location with your provider, etc. should all be done prior to the travel planning process. You’ll want to begin reserving services at least a year out.  Securing the best prices & itineraries is more likely early on, for both air & ground services, since prices will rise as demand increases. Flights become available 11 months prior to travel, but ground services can be reserved much earlier.

TIP: Flights open 10-11 months prior to departure. You can hold group space with a provider – to secure a confirmed price for your proposal – without needing passenger names or final payment.

More time to plan also means more time to recruit. If you have your program nailed down & costed a year in advance, it makes recruiting easier & filling your trip all the more likely.

Pre-proposal To-Dos

  1. Brainstorm ideas 2 years in advance.
  2. Establish reasons the course needs to be taught abroad.
  3. Coordinate with other faculty in your department.
  4. Choose a co-leader (if applicable).
  5. Start a conversation with your provider 1.5 years in advance.
  6. Gauge student interest.

What should you discuss during an initial conversation with a program provider?

Nakamura:  What are your learning objectives? There is a shift in focus throughout higher education, from focusing on location to achieving learning objectives. Even if you do not have a destination in mind, as long as there are clear learning objectives, anything can be possible and that’s what program providers are here for. The goal is to serve the students and help them accomplish their academic goals.

Cromer: I believe that someone new to study abroad planning should ask, what is the program provider’s role in planning, and do they have any sample itineraries that may be similar to the trip they are planning.  When first brainstorming a program, it can be overwhelming, so getting ideas from the provider early on can help the planner get focused quickly.

Burkholder: It’s definitely better if we investigate options in the beginning – before we start to lock in services. This avoids re-work which saves my clients both time & money. There are a variety of topics I like to discuss when I first start working on a program:

  • What is the focus of your program? Goals?
  • Are you partnering with a university in country?
  • Are there activities you’ve already committed to?
  • Do you have preferred sites/experiences/lodging?
  • Do you have set travel dates?
  • What are the approximate number of travelers?

Key Topics to Discuss with Your Program Provider

  1. Learning objectives
  2. The program provider’s role
  3. Sample itineraries
  4. University partnerships abroad
  5. Ideas for activities/excursions
  6. Expected travel dates & group size

We hope you enjoyed the second installment of our Ask the Experts series. If you missed Part 1, take a look at “Advice for Choosing a Study Abroad Destination.” Part 3 will be focused on the number of leaders needed for a successful trip & the advantages/disadvantages of having co-leaders.

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