By Nickie Hayes
For students looking to enhance their college experience, the National Student Exchange program can provide that. SUNY Plattsburgh is one of the 170 schools in the National Student Exchange or NSE program.
Students can go to school for the same tuition as SUNY Plattsburgh, but in any state, including Hawaii and Alaska, the United States territories including Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, along with Canada.
Brooke Layhee, the coordinator of the study away program, manages the study away function at SUNY Plattsburgh through the Global Education Office.
Aidan Vogl is a senior, with a major in computer security, and has firsthand experience in the NSE program. He participated in the NSE program in his second semester of his junior year. Vogl studied in Orem, Utah, at Utah Valley University.
Jerreka Turner-Lewis, is a senior with a public relations major and a minor in marketing. She participated in the NSE program and studied in San Bernardino, California, at the California University of San Bernardino.
Within the program, students are allowed to study for a full semester, or a summer term at another university.
In the National Student Exchange there are a variety of universities, and is a great option for those who do not want to or are not ready to study in a different country.
Vogl said there were 40,000 students on his host campus, which heavily contrasted what he was used to at SUNY Plattsburgh. He said it could be pretty intense sometimes with that many students, but he was glad it took him out of his comfort zone.
“There is so much within the U.S. for students to explore, that they could go to the south or the west coast, experiencing something completely different and still be in the states,” Layhee said.
If students are preparing for graduate school, staying at that campus they are interested in can determine whether or not it will be the right choice for them. As well, students can use this as an opportunity to try living in another part of the country they might want to move to later in life.
“In your head you might think you want to live in California, but try it out for a semester, and see how it goes,” Layhee said.
Turner said she had always wanted to go to California, and that is why she chose that destination. The school was not her top choice, but she was glad she was only an hour from Los Angeles. As well, the school offered many courses within her program.
“Being in a new place is what makes it so exciting,” Turner said.
“My experience was amazing out in Utah,” Vogl said.
One of the reasons he chose this destination was because of the mountainous scenery, and he had the ability to ski every weekend.
There is also an application for the NSE program, which is available in early November to complete, and is due by Feb. 25. There is an application fee of $210, and this used to be nonrefundable. However, due to COVID-19, the NSE program now allows for the application fee to be deferred to a different term.
Layhee said in comparison to the study abroad program, NSE is unique because students must choose their top five schools they would like to study at, and rank them from their most to least wanted.
From there, after their applications are submitted, in March, there is a placement conference. This is when students will find out which school they will be attending for the following fall or spring term.
Layhee explains that there is a wide range of students who are interested in doing the program. With students coming from almost every major at SUNY Plattsburgh. Although, typically students who have flexibility within their major have the most success in the NSE program.
To participate in the program, students must have at least a 2.5 GPA to apply, but depending on the school they would like to attend within the program, it may be higher. Layhee said it can range up to a 2.75 or 2.8 GPA, for some schools. As well, students must have stayed on the Plattsburgh campus for at least one semester to have an established GPA.
There are many benefits to the NSE program, including an experience for students looking to learn more about the United States, and learning about different communities around the United States.
Vogl said his favorite experiences at the school were meeting new people, especially because they grew up in a completely different environment. He enjoyed comparing the similarities and differences of people from back home in Plattsburgh to people from Utah.
As well, he enjoyed learning from different instructors and seeing their perspective on the field.
“I took a couple of courses that I would never be able to take at Plattsburgh. I took an emergency preparedness course, and I took a course in national security,” Vogl said.
Turner said there was a place like the H.U.B. at SUNY Plattsburgh, but called the Cross Cultural Center at her host university. She said she had made a lot of her friends there, who have now turned into life-long friendships and got to learn more about the campus there.
“One of my favorite parts about going there were the apartment style dorms,” Turner said.
She was lucky enough for the first half of the semester to have the apartment to herself. As well, they were right across the street from the campus, and that is where the upperclassmen lived.
Another benefit to the NSE program is that students have a much easier ability to find courses that will be able to transfer back into credits for SUNY Plattsburgh, compared to the study abroad program.
One thing that was nice for Vogl was that the course credits transferred to SUNY Plattsburgh effortlessly.
Layhee highlights the importance of making connections and networking through the NSE, and says students can start to build that professional network that can be utilized after graduation.
“Building that as early as you can is so important because so much of what we do is based on the connections we make,” Layhee said.
Vogl said the professors were delightful, and gracious enough to offer help in the future if he ever had any questions.
As well, one of his friends worked at a technology start up company in Salt Lake City, and another friend worked at a staffing firm. He said that the friend who worked at the staffing firm would be able to get him a position if he was ever interested.
While on one of the ski lifts, Vogl met a man from the United Kingdom. He told him about some interesting job opportunities there in hedge funding for him to look into.
Turner said that even though it was a big school, she still got to make connections with her professors.
One professor specifically stood out to her because he was her public relations campaign instructor. In the course, she got to work at an art gallery, creating a strategic marketing plan for them. She enjoyed the real life experience in public relations.
Layhee explains that the only drawback a student might have in the NSE is culture shock, but this can be used for self-reflection and having a better understanding of the country we live in, which would ultimately help them in the long run.
“That is something you wouldn’t necessarily learn in a classroom. It is mostly generated by the experience you have,” Layhee said.
One of the major drawbacks for her was that she did not have a car, and there was not much outside of the campus to do for her. As well, she had a bit of a culture shock, but she said that added to her experience.
The only disadvantage of the experience for Vogl was that it was cut short. At the time, COVID-19 was starting to ramp up in the United States, along with the rest of the world, so he had to leave Utah early.
Turner also had her experience cut short due to COVID-19.
“It was a little scary being so far away, and not knowing what’s going to happen due to the unforeseen circumstances,” Turner said.
Due to COVID-19, the NSE program has been canceled for the 2021 spring semester. Although as of now, the NSE has not determined if the program will occur summer 2021, or for fall 2021. Although, Layhee is continuing to prepare for students to experience the program next summer and fall.
Layhee said she likes to take precautionary measures, especially during this time. This includes having students prepare their classes if they are doing the NSE program, and having a backup plan of courses if it is canceled. As well, there is a Risk Tolerance Assessment, to advise students to consider different scenarios when studying away.
She explains the department is very transparent about anything, including costs, COVID-19 precautions and unplanned occurrences. They want students to understand the full picture, being as proactive as possible.
The fees associated with the NSE include the one application fee of $210, and the registration fee of $350 that is normally added on to students regular tuition fee.
“The way I look at it is that it is $560 to do NSE,” Layhee said.
Other fees may include housing at the campus if that is more expensive, or a flight ticket to the destination, but as a student is setting up the process, Layhee will explain individualized payments needed on a case-by-case basis.
For tuition costs, Turner did not have to pay anything out of pocket because her financial aid transferred to the university, and she paid the same tuition as SUNY Plattsburgh. The only other expenses she had were for room and board.
Vogl’s tuition was actually less expensive at his host school than SUNY Plattsburgh’s tuition rates. However, he said the cost of the program overall was more than the initial fees, but that was to be expected, and was still much lower than he anticipated.
Layhee said depending on where students go, they also have the opportunity to develop a second language.
“We talk a lot about creating global citizens on our campus, and having students that have these competencies to understand cultures or people beyond themselves,” Layhee said.
What Vogl took away from the program was that traveling is a wonderful experience, and got to learn a little more about the world. As well, instead of flying out to Utah he drove across the country. He said it was to explore new states he had not seen before.
“It was the first on my own exploration. Now I am definitely more confident going places on my own, learning about places, and exploring,” Vogl said.
He also explained how he can be timid at times, and the experience helped him get out of his shell.
“I don’t think I would have developed the personality that I have now without doing NSE,” Turner said.
She said overall the experience was eye opening for her and made her want to push herself to open herself to life’s many opportunities. She said it is a life changing experience, and with proper planning, nothing can stop a student from doing the NSE program.
Layhee said she personally recommends the program because it is an affordable way to have an experience outside of Plattsburgh. She said Plattsburgh has so much to offer students with its wonderful programs and faculty, but this is another way to add to that experience.