The disclosure bill in New York is in response to criticism that some study abroad programmes treat students like ‘cash cows’ as their growing popularity enable “tuition arbitrage”, Barmak Nassirian, director of Federal Relations and Policy Analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), said.
“Asking institutions to explain the actual cost of study abroad would likely have the opposite intended effect of the bill”
Senator Ken LaValle, head of the NY Senate Higher Education Committee, claimed that institutions maximise profit by “[working] out a deal that is lower than their tuition, but the student pays normal tuition.”
The New York legislation would require colleges to disclose relationships and “perquisites” they receive from study abroad programmes, such as course and accommodation fees, living expenses and payment from study abroad providers.
However, Brian Whalen, CEO of the Forum on Education Abroad (FEA), told The PIE News that the bill demonstrates “a lack of understanding about how study abroad (indeed, higher education in general) is financed and managed”.
The government should not regulate ethical best practice, Whalen contended, saying that institutions should instead adhere to the Forum’s education abroad Code of Ethics, which states that “Agreements with providers of education abroad services […] should be disclosed fully, together with any beneﬁts to the institution or its staff”.
Whalen told The PIE News that the imprecise language of the bill “would lead to confusion regarding what is meant specifically by ‘perquisites’,” while the legislation fails to account for additional costs including institutional financial aid and infrastructure support within the institution and study abroad office.
“Ironically, asking institutions to explain the actual cost of study abroad would likely have the opposite intended effect of the bill and reveal that the cost of study abroad is much higher than what price is charged by the study abroad provider or host institution,” he argued.
Speaking with The PIE News, Mitch Leventhal, former Vice Chancellor for Global Affairs at the State University of New York, added: “I do not see the problem that they are trying to fix. I know very few study abroad programs that are actual profit centres. Most struggle to just cover costs. ”
“I do think that the bill now is something that most of us in the state feel pretty comfortable complying with”
Senator Terri Bonoff, chair of the MN Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee and a sponsor of the MN legislation, said that requiring institutions to provide reports on accidents and illnesses abroad would be a “prudent first step” in ensuring student safety.
“I did not want to curtail students’ ability to study abroad,” he said. “[The bill] really just says, what’s your safety record, and it has you report it on an annual basis and that data will be aggregated on the secretary of state’s and the Office of Higher Education’s website.”
Stacey Tsantir, director of international health, safety and compliance for the University of Minnesota’s global programmes office, was among a number of education professionals who provided feedback for the bill.
“At first the prospect of having a law that would regulate our work was kind of scary,” she said, but added that discussions with the bill’s sponsors had allayed her doubts: “I do think that the bill now is something that most of us in the state feel pretty comfortable complying with.”
Like FEA’s CEO Whalen, Eddie West, Director of International Initiatives at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), said that institutions should adhere to best practice standards such as those laid out by the FEA.
“That said, we are mindful that to the extent that US institutions cannot ensure transparency, accountability and integrity in their study abroad activity, they can expect to be regulated externally,” he said.