Officials investigate study abroad practices

By Liz Lavin
September 20, 2007

A recent investigation into alleged unethical practices of study abroad programs could potentially make study abroad cheaper.

Andrew Cuomo, New York’s Attorney General, has issued subpoenas to organizations that provide study abroad programs to colleges, according to a recent New York Times article. The organizations are being investigated to find out if the perks they offer influence universities decisions about where they send their students.

Arcadia University’s Center for Education Abroad, the No. 1 ranked study abroad provider in the county and one of the providers that Cabrini College frequently uses, is among the providers that have been subpoenaed.

The director of Arcadia’s program would not comment on the issue without first speaking to a lawyer, saying in a New York Times article that “the university wants to obviously be responsive, but this is strange water for us.”

It has been found that colleges and universities have been receiving bonuses from study abroad programs to market their programs. These perks rarely benefit students.

Some perks that colleges receive are free travel overseas for faculty and staff, stipends for marketing, unpaid memberships on advisory boards and cash bonuses and commissions.

In addition, colleges and universities make money on study abroad by charging full local tuition to study-abroad students, paying just part of that money to the institution overseas and pocketing the rest, according to the New York Times.

Dr. Nicholas Uliano, assistant professor of romance languages and the study abroad coordinator said that is not the case at Cabrini.

“Cabrini students can rest assured that Cabrini is not in the business of making money from study abroad students,” he said. “In fact, when students study abroad through programs sponsored by other institutions, such as Arcadia, all of the billing which the student receives is through the sponsoring institution. Cabrini’s Business Office is not even involved.”

Receiving perks from a study abroad provider is not illegal because there are no regulations placed on study abroad programs, just a voluntary code of ethics that “limit members to gifts of nominal value and that do not seem intended to influence professional decisions,” according to the New York Times. This investigation raises the question of whether or not it is ethical to receive these gifts.

Critics of the study abroad programs say the receiving of gifts is unethical and are afraid colleges may reach the point where they rely on the money they are receiving from perks; supporters say the perks are so common they do not influence decisions and are relatively minor.

Uliano neither recommends nor advises students to choose a study abroad program offered by for-profit travel companies. Instead, he guides students toward programs offered through academic institutions, saying he would rather work other accredited colleges and universities than with for-profit organizations.

A “Study Abroad National Challenge Survey” found that most people believe that financial issues are the biggest barrier for students who wish to study abroad.

That is sometimes the case at Cabrini. Junior elementary education major Gary Pester is in the process of trying to study abroad.

“I would like to go abroad, I’m looking to see if I can afford it,” Pester said.

Pester narrowed his choices down from a fall or spring semester, which can cost between $10,000 and $15,000, to a summer semester, which costs about $6,000.

Studying abroad is pricey, but students do not have limited options at Cabrini, according to Uliano. Cabrini’s goal is to match a student’s overseas school to their budget.

Through Arcadia’s program, a person could spend a semester in Spain for just over $10,000. The cost of a semester in England varies; the University of Essex costs $13,500 but City College, London costs $22,000. The price of one’s semester abroad depends almost completely on its location.

When asked about the fact that Arcadia has been subpoenaed for this investigation, Uliano said, “Nothing will happen to Arcadia; it is not a sleazy organization. I would imagine this is how big business and politics works all across the country.”

Liz Lavin

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