15 May 2013
WHEN ALEXANDRA ESTRELLA studied abroad in Japan last summer, she received a helping hand from every student at The University of Texas at Austin.
Thanks to the International Education Fee Scholarship (IEFS), thousands of other students like Estrella are able to study abroad every year.
“I know that if I had not received it, I would not have been able to study abroad, or I would have had to take out loans,” said Estrella, a senior Japanese and speech language pathology major.
Put in place in 1990, the IEFS is funded by a fee added on tuition payments for every student at the university. Although students voted overwhelmingly to make the scholarship available, it was no easy feat making it a reality.
In the 1980s, the campus was a hotbed for anti-Apartheid activism. Students across the United States were petitioning administrators and trustees to divest from businesses in South Africa, which was embroiled in controversy over the continued practice of institutionalized segregation.
Bill Dorland was a student at The University of Texas at Austin at the time. He sympathized with the activists, but felt a different approach was needed. The most important thing students could do, he said he believed, was to open doors for South African students to study at the university. He also encouraged more study abroad participation by his peers in the United States.
“Texas is a big place,” Dorland said, “and you don’t have to leave. We had lots of international students, but what was missing was this spirit of engaging with the whole world. Texas had been the center of the world.”
Together with his friends Keith Duff and Crisney Lane, Dorland began a campaign to create a scholarship that would flatten the world for a generation on the tail end of the cold war. Unfortunately, they weren’t sure how it would be funded.
They then realized how much impact the scholarship could have if every student at the university contributed just one dollar. In 1986, under the slogan “check a dollar for a scholar,” the three friends proposed to the student body to include the one-dollar fee on every tuition bill to go toward the scholarship. The issue came to a campus wide vote, and the student body voted in favor of the measure.
But their quest to make study abroad more accessible didn’t end there. Because The University of Texas at Austin is a public institution, the students had to get the state legislature’s approval to add the fee to tuition bills.
They began lobbying for the scholarship during at the legislature during its 1987 session. Amid the hectic politics that often surrounds the biannual convening of the state’s representatives, the scholarship was proposed as an amendment to another bill on the last day of the session. It failed to pass.
The three friends were not discouraged. Dorland graduated in 1988, leaving rising seniors Duff and Lane to take on the task of bringing it up again to the legislature during its next session in 1989. This time, they succeeded. By the 1990-91 academic year, the fee was added on the tuition bill for every student.
In 1994, students voted to raise the fee to three dollars, tripling the funding for the scholarship. Since then, the scholarship has enabled hundreds of students to study abroad, and supported hundreds of international students coming to the university.
Since its inception, more than 3,000 students have received more than two million dollars in scholarships. The IEFS has become a model for international education scholarships—across the nation, dozens of other universities have adopted similar programs after seeing its continued success at the University of Texas.
“I’m thrilled that the scholarship is still going,” said Lane, who pushed for the scholarship because of her own study abroad experience. “When you have that experience, it can change your life and your perspective.”
By Forrest Burnson
Infographic by Sara Vahle