Lefton says more students needed in Italy program

Jackie Valley

Increased Florence enrollment could turn deficit into $600,000 upswing

Anna Aschenbeck, junior fashion design major, worked hard Monday through Thursday in Florence, Italy, so she could explore the city at night and other European countries on the weekends.

Before she left last semester, Aschenbeck visited France, England and Spain – an experience she said was “worth every penny.”

“It was awesome,” she said. “I was able to visit so many countries, and I think it really enhanced my fashion design education.”

But President Lester Lefton said the Florence facility for the study abroad program is currently being underutilized. To offset the several hundred thousand dollar deficit, he plans to increase the number of students studying abroad there.

“We are going to fill that building with Kent State students as well as students from other universities who will pay us to come to Kent State,” he said. “That’s part of the key to all this.”

The goal, he said, is to turn the deficit into a minimum $600,000 upswing in the next 17 or 18 months.

Now that state support only accounts for 25 percent of the university’s budget, Lefton said he pays close attention to financial matters such as the Florence program to ensure “it’s making money, not losing money hand over fist.”

Lefton said although the spring session in Florence is nearly full at 120 students, the fall semester is traditionally less populated.

Sandy Baker, program manager in the Office of International Affairs, said the discrepancy between the two semesters is because the fashion program goes to Florence in the fall and the undergraduate architecture program goes in the spring.

Baker said 98 architecture students are currently in Florence – the largest group to date – and between 35 and 45 fashion students go in the fall each year.

In addition, Baker said the two-year-old Florence Semester with basic Liberal Education Requirement courses open to all Kent State students is still experiencing growth.

“We offer that program so we could provide more students the opportunity to participate in study abroad without having to be in one of those programs (fashion or architecture),” she said.

Baker said the Office of International Affairs is working with Provost Robert Frank and Steve Michael, vice provost for diversity, to “define a clearer financial picture” of the Florence program.

Part of the problem, she said, is the inflation of the Euro, which is currently worth $1.50 compared to the American dollar – a 50 percent increase in costs because of the exchange rate.

Lefton said the university may eliminate one position in Florence that would equate to a savings of between $80,000 and $100,000 in American money because of the exchange rate.

Baker said the university is also evaluating other small cost-cutting options, such as ending a Florence newspaper subscription, before a final decision is made.

To increase enrollment in Florence, Lefton said Kent State will heavily recruit more students from the College of Arts and Sciences before opening the doors to students from other universities.

He said only three students from the College of Arts and Sciences, the largest college on campus, studied abroad in Florence last fall.

“Something is wrong,” he said. “We’re going to fix it. We’re going to populate and use that facility the way it should be used.”

Lefton said the university has already spoken with several public and private universities interested in sending their students to Kent State’s Florence program.

“It’s great to get kids from California and South Carolina and Texas merging in Florence with our Kent State students from Columbus and Cleveland because you get a much more enriched experience,” he said.

Frank told the Faculty Senate last week he estimates the university will improve the Florence finances by $100,000 this year.

“We haven’t fixed this yet, but we have a plan, and it’s a realistic plan,” Lefton said.

Contact administration reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].