Ivey league study abroad programs scrutinized

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Some of the most reputable universities in the United States are being investigated by the New York attorney general’s office.

Last week, lawyers subpoenaed 15 universities and colleges to inspect their study abroad programs. Harvard University and Brown University are two of the institutions under scrutiny.

This comes after the US government’s recent settlement with dozens of universities after an investigation into student loans last year.

John Milgrim, spokesperson for the New York attorney general’s office, explained how during the inquiry they noticed some “financial arrangements that should be looked into.”

During the student loan inquiry, the office of the attorney general discovered revenue sharing agreements, where agencies were paying the universities to send students to them.

Program providers offered incentives, including rebates, free and subsidized travel, unpaid seats on advisory boards and other benefits to university administration in exchange for exclusive partnerships.

Lawyers are investigating whether international study program providers are doing the same thing. The civil probe aims to create a unified code of conduct to prevent abuse that costs students money.

“The office is looking to root out any conflicts of interest that could harm students, especially middle class students and their families who can’t afford to pay any extras,” Milgrim said.

Although the US Department of Education oversees universities and colleges, the international program providers are private companies and are not controlled by the government.

Milgrim said the investigation is to ensure students are not being cheated.

“If there were financial arrangements that benefited the college, students could be paying more than they were told about or the money could go to something other than what they’re specifically paying for.”

In response to the investigation, the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA) released Strengthening Study Abroad: Recommendations for Effective Institutional Management on Jan. 16.

Compiled by a task force of 12 college and university presidents and senior administrators, the report recommended guidelines for managing study abroad programs.

“We expect that this report will serve as a key catalyst for discussions among campus leaders,” Marlene Johnson, NAFSA executive director and CEO, said.

In the report, John K. Hudzik, vice-president for global engagement and strategic projects at Michigan State University and chair of NAFSA’s task force, emphasized the management of study abroad programs must hold service to students as the top priority.”

Jaime Boccongelle, a third-year sociology student, thinks students should be able to trust an institution such as Harvard.

“I think schools like that already have enough money.”

Mike Ikeda, a second-year philosophy student, agreed, “I think they should always work in the student’s best interest.”

The university, however, is a business.

James Goodall, a second-year pre-Richard Ivey School of Business student, explained, “[Universities] have to do what’s best for them.”

Lawyers at the attorney general’s office are still investigating the issue.

“We’re looking into making sure that when students are told that when a decision they’re making is in their best interest, that it is in their best interest.”

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