Princeton supports global 'bridge year' for frosh

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Princeton is encouraging frosh to take a year off, go to Europe, take a look around and see what they like before college.

The prestigious college is considering encouraging its frosh to take a “bridge year” that would allow qualified freshmen to spend a year of public service abroad with financial support from the university.

Shirley Tilghman, president of Princeton, explained an international gap year would increase the international perspective of students and increase the university’s commitment to foreign services. Both of these initiatives are high on Tilghman’s list of priorities.

A working group has been appointed to consider different aspects of the bridge year program including selection criteria, costs, student security and organizational partners.

Emily Aronson, spokesperson for Princeton, explained the bridge year program would differ from other study abroad exchanges.

“It does not have an academic component, which may interest some of the same types of students who currently participate in study abroad and also appeal to a separate category of students who like the focus on service.”

Students who are eligible could choose from a variety of volunteer experiences from a service like the Peace Corps to working on a farm.

Roma Harris, Western’s vice-provost academic programs and students, agreed international travel is a valuable experience for students.

“As we are living on an increasingly interconnected planet, it’s really good if students can take that opportunity to see other parts of the world,” she said.

Harris said a similar program at Western would not be feasible. “Princeton is a very wealthy institution. We’re just not in the position to provide the support that they would be able to.”

She added it is more likely for prospective students to take time off if necessary before coming to Western.

But she pointed to the value of Western’s exchanges and international study programs for students who are interested in expanding their horizons.

Western students were skeptical of a school-sponsored gap year.

“I’m not sure how I feel about a university financially supporting that,” Janan Dean, a fourth-year anthropology student said, adding there is a risk some students would accept the money, take a year off and then decide not to return.

Kerry-Anne Porter, a fifth-year psychology and visual arts student, agreed more specifics are necessary before the program is put into action.

Princeton hopes to have the bridge-year program in place by fall 2009.

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