January 29, 2008

C.U. Receives Subpoena in Study Abroad Investigation

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The University is currently reviewing a subpoena issued by the New York Attorney General’s Office on Jan. 15, according to Simeon Moss ’73, director of Cornell Press Relations. Cornell is one of 15 colleges and universities that received subpoenas as part of an ongoing investigation into the way study abroad programs are selected.
The investigation is being led by N.Y. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D) and seeks to determine whether “affiliation agreements” exist between study-abroad providers and universities, according to The New York Times. Such agreements may limit the number of programs available to students and may therefore drive up prices.
“At this time, the University is reviewing the subpoena and we are considering our response — and we will, of course, comply,” Moss said. “We’re not aware of any problems with our programs.”
In an effort to find out if there are potential conflicts of interest, the Office of the NYS Attorney General is looking to see if the universities may have received perks from study abroad providers. Examples of “questionable” benefits include college rebates and subsidized travel.
At Cornell, according to Richard Gaulton, director of Cornell Abroad, because programs are approved by each student’s individual college, there is no limit to the number of programs that students may participate in.
“There are literally hundreds of programs that students have gone on. The level of choice is a real strength of what we do,” Gaulton said.
As a result, he explained, because Cornell does not have any exclusive arrangements with study abroad providers, the investigation will not have any significant impact on the 500 or so students that have participated in study abroad programs each year for the past four years.
Furthermore, Gaulton noted that while there have been cases in which students have received fee reductions or scholarships, those benefits have gone directly to students.
Not all of the colleges and universities that were subpoenaed are necessarily suspected to have questionable relationships with study-abroad providers, according to The Associated Press. Some may have been chosen as part of a sampling of study-abroad programs.
The investigation aims to eventually establish a code of conduct that would more clearly guide how study-abroad programs are selected and regulate the relationships between the programs and universities, according to The Times.
A report offering basic recommendations for guidelines for the study-abroad industry was released on Jan. 16 by NAFSA: Association of International Educators. The report, “Strengthening Study Abroad: Recommendations for Effective Institutional Management for Presidents, Senior Administrators and Study Abroad Professionals,” offers broad, non-specific suggestions and criteria for the institutional management of study abroad.
“There is no one ‘right’ model to guide campus leaders seeking the best means to serve their students and the institution’s mission,” the report explains.
In addition, while the report acknowledges the issues brought up during the investigation; it predicts that those issues are not widespread.
“The task force was formed at a time when certain study-abroad program practices were in the news. The issues raised — the existence of potentially questionable financial arrangements between institutions and program providers and questionable credit-transfer policies, among others — will prove, the task force believes, to be limited in scope.”
Still, however, the report notes that due to recent changes in study abroad, it is important to examine the study-abroad industry, explaining that “these issues do focus our attention on the rapid growth of study abroad, the increasing diversity of student needs, the challenge of integrating study abroad into all aspects of an institution and the unique risk-management and quality-control issues inherent in study abroad.”
It is unclear why the subpoenas to universities were issued so recently. In August, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that subpoenas had been issued to study abroad providers and predicted that subpoenas would soon be issued to universities. A second round of subpoenas were issued to study-abroad providers in September.
The current investigation recalls the recent investigation led by Cuomo into the student-loan industry, which also resulted in a set of regulations to make the relationships between colleges and lenders more standardized.
Not all of the colleges and universities that received subpoenas, including Harvard and Brown, are located in New York. However, because students from New York do attend these colleges, Cuomo claims the investigation is within the jurisdiction of his office.