Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s investigation into illegal incentives within the student lender industry has burgeoned into a full-out hunt for immoral use of student funds. The buzz has recently spread into college study abroad offices where administrators frequently receive money and free-of-charge trips in exchange for recruiting student travelers. As always, there are two sides to every story, and many college officials have been eager to tell theirs.
According to some study-abroad advisors, the trips were much more business than they were pleasure. College administrators have said that travel was a necessary tool for advisors who educated students on their locations of interest. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Ms. Gayly Opem, executive vice president of marketing at the Institute for the International Education of Students, held such an opinion stating, “I don’t know of any other way for them to do it than to visit the program.”
An accusation more difficult to justify was one that claimed students who chose to travel without school program assistance were sometimes denied approval for credit transfers. The New York Times article about Brendan Jones, a Columbia student denied credit transfer from Oxford told the story of one such case. Although Oxford is well known for its academic excellence, and ranked higher than some abroad institutions Brendan’s Columbia peers received credits from, the transfer was denied. Instead of returning, Brendan decided to finish school at Oxford.
Studying abroad is generally regarded as an enriching experience, in a both intellectual and social sense, but brows are rising at the business side of college travel. After Cuomo’s investigation revealed questionable administrative tactics, the idea of colleges and travel agencies marketing travel as a full-out panacea just feels tainted. A 2004 issue of Transitions Abroad magazine featured the results of a study by the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES) which claimed that 98% of students who spent a year abroad returned with increased sef-confidence and a higher level of maturity. It also reported that about 70% of the travelers returned with an ignited interest in a career direction they pursued after the experience. I have a feeling that plenty of students studying in the U.S. also developed career interests during college.
The overall theme of the investigation is that college costs are out of control, and college administrators who act like businessmen are in part to blame. While hope for a major overhaul of the funding system is a bit premature, new legislation passed by Congress will increase Pell Grants and decrease some student loan interest rates. In the mean time, students can fill funding gaps by conducting a free scholarship search and applying for awards. Students can also use Scholarships.com’s resources to find much-needed information about taking control of their finances and planning ahead for college costs.