University officials said there is no cause for concern about Yale’s affiliations with study abroad program providers, despite revelations in recent weeks regarding kickbacks to other American schools.
Many third-party study abroad providers, paid by students to help them enroll at foreign universities and adjust to life there, engage in covert and possibly unethical dealings with college study abroad administrators who affiliate with them, the New York Times reported Aug. 13. These arrangements allegedly can include sponsored overseas travel for officials, bonuses to colleges that recruit students to the providers’ programs, and commissions on student fees.
The University uses at least four of five providers subpoenaed by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo after the Times article was published, according to Yale’s Web site. But in response to a general inquiry about study abroad practices, administrators said the Office of International Education and Fellowship Programs constantly monitors its ethical standards. The office also receives substantial financial support from the University, eliminating the appeal of incentives from third-party providers, said Jane Edwards, associate dean for international affairs. Many students who have studied abroad agreed, saying they believe they were guided to particular programs according to their individual interests and needs, not with underlying motives.
The Times article prompted Yale’s Office of the Vice President and General Counsel, which monitors legal issues pertaining to the University, to request a description of study abroad practices from all Yale schools that send students overseas. IEFP officials also examined the department’s practices and affiliations with study abroad providers internally. They concluded that the highest possible ethical standards are being met, said Edwards, who formerly served on the advisory board for the Forum on Education Abroad, an organization that establishes standards of overseas education for its member schools.
Edwards said that even though Yale maintains high ethical standards, reviews of its practices are still important when national issues arise.
“We should look hard at this,” she said. “If this is going to be a matter of concern to students and parents, we should be absolutely sure we are transparent in the way we manage study abroad.”
Third-party providers sometimes cover the travel expenses of Edwards and other IEFP staff to overseas education sites. Edwards said the trips allow college officials to become familiar with the places to which they send students, and the evaluations University officials write help programs improve and remain competitive.
“In all the trips I’ve taken, nobody has ever said to me that the expectation is that you will send your students to this university in the future,” she said. “Familiarization trips are indispensable not just from my perspective of wanting to learn about the program, but it also means that the programs are being monitored by people in universities, so it’s a quality-control mechanism.”
Kay Glass, director of the Forum, said one of the main principles that should guide a school’s relations with third-party providers is transparency, given that the line between ethical and unethical practices can be blurry.
“The most important thing is that the actions be in the best interest of the students and that the quality of the education abroad is the focus of the staff,” Glass said. “The issue is the purpose of the visits, and does everybody know how the funding is happening?”
The Forum is designated by the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission as a standards developer for education abroad, and its 250 member colleges, including Yale, are expected to follow these standards.
A faculty committee chooses Yale’s affiliated study abroad providers based on evaluations of previous student experiences, as well as Yale administrators’ knowledge of the available options, Edwards said.
While Edwards said third-party providers offer many benefits to students, including helping to find housing and travel locally, some undergraduates who have studied abroad through such programs said they wish they had enrolled directly in a foreign university.
Annie Heller ’08 used the Arcadia University program — one of the subpoenaed providers — to study in Granada, Spain last spring. She said she believes she was guided to the program based on the interests and needs she expressed, such as the cost of the program, the size of the city and her Spanish-speaking ability. Still, she wishes she had attended the University of Granada independently, although her program provided students with housing, enrollment in university classes for non-native speakers and a local mentor.
“I would recommend that people take that option if they can, because when you’re in classes with all Americans you don’t meet as many people and you don’t speak as much Spanish, even if you try really hard,” she said. “But the reason I chose my program was that I didn’t want to be thrown out on my own in a country where I didn’t speak the language.”
Julie Carney ’08, who studied in Mali two years ago through the School for International Training, a third-party provider, said SIT is the primary provider for African countries and was the most feasible option for her intended destination. Still, she and her classmates questioned the cost of their program’s tuition and fees, which were comparable to those of friends studying in Western Europe, she said.
“Obviously, study abroad programs are a profit-making venture, and it’s hard because how else are you going to go to a country?” Carney said. “A lot of us wished we had gone on our own, but it introduced us to a country, and I went back this summer.”
Following the Times article, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo issued subpoenas to five study abroad providers, beginning an investigation into possible ethical transgressions. The providers are the Institute for Study Abroad at Butler University, the Institute for the International Education of Students, the Center for Education Abroad at Arcadia University, and the Danish Institute for Study Abroad, all of which are affiliated with Yale study abroad programs, as well as American Institute for Foreign Study.