The fleet of college and university programs that ferry students across the ocean to study abroad has hit stormy weather, at least in the Northeast. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has unleashed a second wave of subpoenas aimed at colleges he suspects of exploiting their students.
Last January, Cuomo launched an investigation of the transactions of the student loan industry. His exposures led to colleges and universities paying millions of dollars in restitution; to new "voluntary" codes of ethics in the student loan industry; and above all to the passage in September of new legislation that substantially cut back on incentives to for-profit lenders.
In August, Cuomo added study abroad programs to his review of corruption in higher education. He began to investigate bribes taken by study abroad administrators to steer students to particular foreign destinations. His first wave of subpoenas targeted study abroad program providers. He is now issuing a second wave to fifteen colleges and universities (ten in New York and five elsewhere), including Harvard, Columbia, and Brown.
Joining Cuomo in the inquiry is Richard Blumenthal, the attorney-general of Connecticut. He has requested that ten colleges and universities in his state voluntarily submit records of their study abroad program setups. The ten are Yale, Fairfield, Quinnipiac, Sacred Heart, and Wesleyan Universities; the Universities of Connecticut and Hartford; and Albertus Magnus, Connecticut, and Trinity Colleges.
These investigations focus on whether study abroad providers are giving perks to school administrators as an incentive to send more students. It appears that some university administrators, motivated by these on-the-side benefits, channel students into programs that may not be the best fit for the student. For example, a college administrator may be offered an extended stay in Rome, or a trip to an exotic locale ostensibly to examine an educational program that could be reviewed more simply.
Sparked by the attention to study abroad programs, NAFSA: Association of International Educators, published a report last month produced by a taskforce that was created to study these programs. The report described huge growth in the number of students who study abroad, and it recommended that higher-education administrators clarify their policies and protect students' interests: "Arrangements with outside providers should never have the effect of limiting students' other options for study abroad where these other options meet institutional standards for health, safety, and program quality.
"While most of the colleges under scrutiny have stated their willingness to comply with the inquest, Harvard and Cornell have announced that their subpoenas are still under review."