The True Cost of Participation – Addressing Financial Barriers to Field Education
Fieldwork is often cited as a critical component of geoscience education, and is an opportunity for individuals to gain and develop valuable technical skills necessary for entering the workforce. It is estimated that a typical geoscience undergraduate degree would require upwards of 30-60 days of field work. Despite these field experiences being critical to student development, there is limited research on how they present financial and social barriers to participation. Whereas the cost of field camp is acknowledged as a potential barrier to participation in geosciences, the cost of field gear and costs associated with participation in field activities (e.g., travel, loss of wages, cost of dependent care) is not well addressed. As geosciences continues to have low rates of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity, it is necessary to examine how the expectations for field education can present barriers to participation.
We undertake this study to determine the range of costs associated with fieldwork conducted over a period of 5 days. For this analysis, we collected ranges of costs of field gear, airfare, and lodging from top retailers. We also estimated the cost of dependent care and loss of wages in that time frame. Such a field endeavor can cost upwards of 2,000 US dollars per student participant. We also examined how the cost of field gear differs across gender. We show that women's gear on average costs an additional 40 US dollars, which creates an additional financial burden. Presented here is a model of field education designed to increase participation amongst underrepresented groups in geoscience by 1) providing financial support to its participants through field gear stipends and 2) compensating students for their field work contributions. We believe this model will broaden participation in field education and research, without placing the economic burden of participation on students.
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