First-year and new transfer students at Buena Vista University will have an opportunity to get a U.S. Passport free of charge when they return to campus for the fall of their second year.
BVU will pay for the cost of applying for a U.S. Passport for all new Storm Lake campus freshmen and transfer students who don’t already have one. Students must achieve a grade point average of at least 2.75 their first year and return in the fall to be eligible for the program.
“We are seeking ways to motivate students to travel, and believe that one of the barriers is the bureaucracy of obtaining a first passport,” says Dr. David Evans, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty.
Evans says it is another way BVU is expanding opportunities for students to take advantage of international travel. “It emphasizes our opportunities and removes one barrier to participation — and more than that, creates a focus on those opportunities and puts them at ‘top of mind’ for potential student travelers, especially those who have not considered international travel closely before.” BVU plans to continue offering this program in future years to new entering students.
“International travel — whether for a semester abroad or a shorter-term experience — significantly enhances our students’ education,” says Dr. Dixee Bartholmew-Feis, dean of the School of Social Science, Philosophy and Religion, who is BVU’s study-abroad coordinator. “By leaving their comfort zones and embracing the unknown students grow and evolve and become more capable global citizens.”
BVU had a “test” run of the process last fall when it offered students in the Dean’s Fellows and Honors Program the opportunity to get free passports, says Jennifer McNabb, Dean’s Fellows and Honors Program coordinator. A student from the graphic design club took the passport photos and representatives from the Buena Vista County Recorder’s office came to campus to guide students through the application process. Thirty-six students got their passports at that time. It’s estimated that approximately 140 students were eligible, but McNabb does not know exactly how many already had passports. BVU plans to continue offering free passports to Deans Fellows and Honors program students in upcoming years, she says.
Buena Vista tries to make international travel courses as affordable as possible for students, says Evans. There are stipends for Dean’s Fellows and Honors students and additional funds are being generated through BVU’s new capital campaign: See Tomorrow: The Campaign for Buena Vista University, he notes. “In addition, BVU subsidizes every international trip by absorbing the travel costs of the faculty advisors, rather than distributing that expense to the student cost of the trip. After that is done we analyze our budgets and distribute extra funds to the trips to reduce students’ costs.”
Most of the international travel by students occurs during BVU’s January interim as a part of travel courses, and through study-abroad by individual students, typically for a semester. Some travel occurs periodically after the end of the academic year and during the summer. The concert choir also travels internationally once every few years. Over the years, some BVU athletic teams have taken international trips, such as the women’s basketball team’s summer trip to Costa Rica last year.
BVU is projecting that it will have around 300 new freshmen and transfer students this fall, says Mike Frantz, vice president for enrollment management. It is not known how many of those students already have passports.
The fee for a first-time U.S. passport is $135, which includes a $110 application fee and a $25 “execution” fee. Passports are valid for 10 years.
New students do not have to travel while at BVU to qualify for the free passport, but will have it available to use if they decide to travel after they graduate.
An Internet search showed only a handful of the nation’s colleges and universities offer this service and, like BVU, typically require a specific minimum GPA for students to qualify.