Working with a Provider: The Questions of Cost

The first question many faculty and education abroad offices ask when working with a provider is: how much will my program cost? Of course, this is an important question. Yet it’s also a question that contains within it other questions–and, when unpacked, can help you clarify your goals in choosing a provider.

There are many questions and issues to consider within the question of cost as you decide to work with a provider, or whether to work with a provider.  Those of us who’ve been in the education abroad field for many years have heard of (and experienced!) our share of disasters and emergencies gone bad when professionals were not involved in organizing and administering faculty-led programs. Oftentimes it’s after a disaster occurs that leads us to using providers.

So, when someone asks, “What will my program cost?”–what is it they’re wanting to know?

Here are questions I believe are contained within the cost question:

  • What services will you provide?
  • What can you guarantee? What is out of your control?
  • Are the needs of my students important to you? How do you show that?
  • Do you understand the financial limitations of my students?
  • What are the benefits of working with your organization? (i.e., What are we paying for?)
  • What can you do that I or my office cannot?

Questions to ask yourself before you ask “what does it cost?”

  • What is the benefit of working with a provider? of working with this specific provider?
  • What do I need a provider to do–that I or my office cannot provide?
  • What risks will a provider mitigate?
  • What risks am I willing to take (on behalf of my students) if I lead a program abroad without a provider?
  • What do I anticipate the cost difference to be between organizing a program myself and working with a provider?

What other questions would you add?


  1. Courtney Kenny

    Great post, Catherine. I would also encourage study abroad offices to consider the opportunity cost of not using a provider, in terms of extra work for staff and working with countries/academic disciplines outside of their expertise. For smaller offices, arranging the details of faculty-led programs can distract from student interaction and advising, recruitment for the program, and other study abroad goals and initiatives.

    The framework you’ve presented here can also be applied when comparing proposals from different providers; it’s not always an apples to apples comparison. Digging in beyond financial cost can help study abroad administrators truly understand the program’s value.

    1. Catherine (Post author)

      Thank you for the additional thoughts, Courtney. I totally agree about opportunity costs of not using a provider. Study abroad offices sometimes forget to figure in their time and salaries to the cost of programs. Students are paying for those costs, although they’re not as evident.

  2. Susie Steinbach

    same–I think that people really underestimate the cost of their own time, and how students are paying for that. Part of this is that if I do something that I am not expert at, it takes me longer than an expert, and I do a worse job. People need to consider this.

    1. Catherine (Post author)

      Thanks for your thoughts, Susie. I agree! Whether it’s faculty making arrangements or study abroad staff, someone’s time is involved and oftentimes, that person’s salary as well.


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