Travel abroad for a dual degree

One option for the dual degree program is the Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid, Spain. Screenshot courtesy of @Salterrae_GLC/Twitter

USD has partnered with international universities to offer an 11-month degree in business

Tyler Arden | Contributor | The USD Vista


For many students, the thought of adding a second major to their degree is a daunting one. However, through a new program offered by the University of San Diego’s School of Business, some students are taking their education  to the next level by graduating with a dual degree  from an international university.

Last year, the School of Business launched an Undergraduate International Dual Degree Program in collaboration with USD’s International Center. Associate Provost for International Affairs Denise Dimon, Ph.D., explained the intrigue that accompanied the introduction of the program. Dimon equated the reaction to the shock that students had when they discovered they could study abroad for a full semester decades ago.

“It is a new concept,” Dimon said. “Our students, when they first heard about it were like, ‘Oh, we can do that?’”

The Undergraduate Dual Degree Program was introduced in 2016 as an opportunity for students to spend one to two years at an international — partner school and earn a degree from both universities.

For students like sophomore Jessica Chen, participating in a program that fits well with her major seemed like an easy decision. Chen will spend two years abroad at John Cabot University in Rome starting next semester.

“This program came out, and I was like, ‘Sure why not do it,’” Chen said. “I’m an International Business major, so it’s good to explore other parts of the world and see what I can do in the future. I think that if you’re an International Business major it’s something you want to do because that’s the purpose of international business.”

Dimon said that dual degree programs are more popular in Europe where students have more mobility between schools through the structure of the education system.

“They make it very easy for students to move from one university to another,” Dimon said. “Part of that mobility are these dual degree programs where students in a four-year university would spend two years at one university and two years at another.”

Dimon explained that these dual degree programs are largely able to work because of a way of counting credits earned in introductory, core-level courses that students take.

“They double-count those credits to meet the degree requirements,” Dimon said. “It’s no different in some ways to things we do here if someone is a transfer student. That’s the idea of the dual degree, although they end up with two degrees where each university is transferring the other’s [credits] so students are meeting the degree requirements of two places but not having to repeat [courses].”

As associate provost for International Affairs, Dimon always looks to add and strengthen partnerships that provide more opportunities for USD students to gain international exposure. When the university was approached by the International Partnership of Business Schools to be the only West Coast school with membership in the organization, they jumped on the opportunity.

The biggest opportunity came from having a strong network to lean on in implementing such a unique program that most people in higher education across the U.S. haven’t experienced.

“It was very beneficial for us because we took the collective knowledge of these universities that were already doing dual degrees,” Dimon said. “It’s not like you have to do something on your own. We really are pioneering something, and having the collective wisdom of the partners to help guide us of what works and how we can advise is a great resource.”

From that inclusion in the International Partnership of Business Schools, Dimon explained that the International Center took the knowledge they could glean from that network to reach out to other international schools where USD already had longstanding partnerships to expand the program. Currently five schools participate in the program.

If this new opportunity is like a symphony, Dimon would be the conductor. In orchestrating such a complex and untried program, cooperation between administrative staff in every role from financial aid and the registrar to admissions is needed. Dimon said that arranging such collaboration is largely fostered by USD’s focus on study abroad opportunities.

“It takes a lot of cooperation across campus for this to happen,” Dimon said. “The devil is in the detail to make it work and hopefully work smoothly for the students. Nothing’s worse than getting ready to graduate and not be, so we don’t want that to happen.”

Common to students like Chen who are participating in the program is a willingness to enter into some sense of ambiguity as the university irons out  program details. As an offering that isn’t largely tried in the U.S., that ambiguity comes from stepping into an unknown experience with unestablished processes. Such variables are not holding them back from the prospects of the initiative, though.

“I’m an international student myself, so I like to get out of my comfort zone,” Chen said. “I felt like it was time to start a new environment.”

Another student participating in the program is sophomore Olivia Perry. As part of her experience, she will spend two years abroad at Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid. Unlike classes at other partner schools, all of Perry’s classes will be taught in Spanish. It contributes to her goal to become fluent in Spanish, though it requires stepping out of what she’s comfortable with.

“To be honest, I feel pretty proud of myself for going outside of my comfort zone and trying something no one from USD has done yet,” Perry said. “It is both exciting and nerve-wracking participating in the dual degree program. It’s exciting to work with the advisors and be the first person take part in such an incredible opportunity. However, it can be stressful when you are the first person in a program and the people supporting you are still figuring out how things are going to play out.”

International Studies Abroad Coordinator Derek Brendle explained the creation of any international experience is largely based on getting feedback from students to determine what works best. With the establishment of such a large and unique program, a focus on gathering student feedback and working out issues is especially a focus.

“These are some of our first students,” Brendle said. “It’s going to be very useful for us as advisors to get some sort of feedback to see how we can better prepare them. Really just to get the ball rolling, it is largely based on that feedback from students.”

It’s something that students involved in the program have realized about the logistics that come with such a program, but something they accept.

“Preparing for the program has been a huge learning experience, not just for me but for everyone involved as well,” Perry said. “Figuring out all the different aspects and dealing with the different challenges of moving abroad for two years has been challenging at times, but I’m grateful to have had the chance to learn about how the process works.”

The biggest challenge expressed by those in the International Center will be growing the program and getting students interested in the prospect. Dimon said that while the partner schools already have their five students to send over as part of the exchange from Europe where dual degrees are more common, USD has not met that goal. Currently only four sophomores are set to participate in the program across the five international schools.

International Studies Abroad Coordinator Alana Thomas said that while interest has grown from the previous year, they don’t anticipate the program reaching tremendous success until students begin to return and see the results of the program.

“It seems like there is a larger group of students that are interested than last year, and we hope that it continues to gain traction,” Thomas said. “We hope that students will return to USD with this amazing experience that they can then share with other USD students and hopefully get that word of mouth to spread. For our programs really that’s how you gain a bigger following.”

The program is also limited only to underclassmen who participate because of the time constraints  of earning a dual degree. Brendle explained how eventually the program will be incorporated as a consideration for prospective students before they even apply to USD once the program gets a foothold.

“Unlike a study abroad program where you can decide as a sophomore, junior, or later, this is something that students need to decide very early,” Brendle said.  “I think in the future it’s going to be a bigger part of the admissions process and even included in campus tours.”

Dimon hopes to find extended opportunities to many students as time progresses.

“I do hope and see that we’ll have more opportunities across many majors for this to happen in, though the business school is the first to pioneer this opportunity,” Dimon said.

Ultimately, Dimon and the International Center have high expectations riding on the success of the dual degree initiative. Long term, they want to continue to pioneer the program within the U.S. and expand both in terms of enrollment and offerings to students.