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Policies and Practices in Study Abroad: A Survey by the Forum on Education Abroad

A piece from InsideHigherEd.com alerted me to a survey completed by the Forum on Education Abroad (unfortunately the survey is available only to the Forum’s members) about policies and practices in study abroad. The survey was conducted in response to a New York Times article about shenanigans in the Study Abroad programs offered by many colleges and universities (see my post here on that NYT article).

According to InsideHigherEd, here are the findings (and here I quote verbatim from IHE):

  • Colleges and outside providers most commonly share the cost of familiarization tours, a frequently used tool for making decisions about approving new programs. Seventy-one percent of respondents indicate that they sometimes or always participate in familiarization tours in which costs are shared by the provider and the college. Fifty-four percent say they sometimes or always participate in tours that the college itself finances, while 39 percent sometimes or always participate in tours paid for by the outside provider.
  • Fifty percent of colleges partner with outside providers to offer specialized study abroad options.
  • Forty-four percent of colleges sometimes or always negotiate fee reductions for students when determining whether to affiliate with an outside provider, with 8 percent always or sometimes tying the student discount to the volume of students that a provider serves. Thirty-eight percent sometimes or always negotiate a scholarship allowance, with 17 percent of colleges tying scholarship negotiations to student volume.
  • Another 8 percent of colleges say they sometimes or always negotiate per-student rebates to support the cost of administering the study abroad office. Five of the colleges report that their office is funded in part through cost-sharing arrangements with outside providers, and among those colleges, cost-sharing arrangements make up an average of 5 percent of the total study abroad office budget. Most study abroad offices are funded primarily out of the institution’s general fund, with student fees paid by education abroad participants the second-most common source of funding.
  • On the provider end, 15 percent offer rebates to affiliated institutions based on volume. Fifty-five percent offer fee reductions to students at affiliated colleges, while 25 percent tie the fee reductions to student volume. Ten percent offer funds to support study abroad office overhead, 50 percent offer representation to college faculty and staff on advisory boards and committees, and 65 percent send program representatives to campuses for visits.
  • Only two of 75 responding colleges, or 3 percent, report that they have exclusive agreements with program providers limiting them from entering into relationships with other providers in a particular area (Such exclusive agreements were a major focal point of The New York Times article).
  • Ninety-seven percent of colleges sometimes or always offer credit to programs administered internally, 100 percent offer credit to approved programs run by outside entities and 65 percent sometimes or always offer credit for non-approved programs (26 percent say they always do so and 39 percent sometimes).
  • How students pay for study abroad varies widely. Thirty-five percent report that students pay the program directly, while at 31 percent of colleges, students pay the program fee to the college which in turn pays the program. Twenty-nine percent say that students are responsible for paying full home school tuition, but pay their own room and board abroad; 18 percent say students pay full home school tuition and fees and the institution pays for all program expenses, including room and board. Still others throw the assessment of extra study abroad program fees into the mix. This area has attracted considerable controversy, as it tends to be cheaper to directly pay for a program abroad than pay tuition for a private American college.

The survey is helpful in dispelling the impression that ALL colleges and universities are on the take by shady international education providers. They are not. But remember that this is a somewhat skewed sample, as not all colleges are among the 269 members of the Forum on Education Abroad, and that only 73 members responded to the survey. (For comparison, there are 3,500 four-year institutions in the US).

What is vital here is transparency. Probably only a few bad apples are giving study abroad programs a bad name. But colleges and universities have to be more up front with their “customers” when they describe their study abroad programs. For too long, parents and students have blindly trusted their institutions to make good choices for them. However, sometimes the choices institutions make may not be guided solely by the educational interests of the student. Colleges operate as businesses, so it should be no surprise that many of these study abroad decisions boil down to dollars and cents. This is not necessarily wrong in every instance. But it is clear that students need to be more aware of these arrangements and they should make every effort to ask pointed questions of study abroad administrators and faculty at their colleges and universities (for often faculty play no role whatsoever in vetting study abroad programs).

Students contemplating study abroad need great college advice. That’s one of the reasons I work with my students to consider study abroad as part of their college decision-making process.

Mark Montomery
Great College Advice from Montgomery Educational Consulting

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  1. Hello,
    Free education is not available in Sweden; however, student will be eligible for scholarships which will cover most of their expenses in Sweden.

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