Archived Information

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

Statement by A. Lee Fritschler

Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education

On

The Safety of American Students Studying Abroad

House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

October 4, 2000

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for this opportunity to discuss the safety of American students studying abroad. We share the Committee's concern and hope that all students, no matter where they study, do not come into harm's way.

On April 19, 2000, President Clinton issued an executive memorandum on international education that identified the challenges our country and our education system face: "To continue to compete successfully in the global economy and to maintain our role as a world leader, the United States needs to ensure that its citizens develop a broad understanding of the world, proficiency in other languages, and knowledge of other cultures." Study abroad opportunities for U.S. students are an important piece of this comprehensive national policy on international education, and the Secretaries of Education and State are working closely with colleges and universities to increase the number of students participating in study abroad programs. We strongly believe that the world perspective and cultural understanding gained by Americans studying abroad is essential if the United States is to continue to compete successfully and maintain a leadership role in the global economy of the 21st century. We believe just as strongly, however, that the safety of students studying abroad is an important concern.

Although the public sometimes learns of incidents of crime and violence against American students studying abroad through tragic headlines, and anecdotally from returning students, most study abroad professionals agree that study abroad programs are as safe as postsecondary programs of study offered in the United States. No one organization or postsecondary institution, public or private, can guarantee the safety of each student in a study abroad program. The Departments of Education and State are working hard to assist in providing resources that make study abroad as safe as possible

According to the latest edition of Open Doors, published by the Institute of International Education, the number of U.S. students receiving academic credit for studying abroad in the l997/98 school year grew to nearly 114,000. Americans studying abroad are typically undergraduates, majoring in the humanities and social sciences, who study abroad for one semester during their junior year. Only about 10,000 of these individuals reside abroad for more than one semester. The leading destinations for U.S. study-abroad students are the countries of Western Europe, although many students choose more distant, and sometimes dangerous, areas of the world as a study abroad destination.

The Department's primary role in study abroad programs is to administer the student financial assistance programs that enable students to pursue their studies in the United States and in other countries. Most federal student financial assistance available to students under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (the HEA) is portable to study abroad programs. The international education grant programs that the Department administers under Title VI of the HEA, as well as the Fulbright-Hays Grant programs, are intended to improve postsecondary teaching and research concerning other cultures and languages, training of specialists, and the American public's general understanding of the peoples of other countries. The Department has no authority to regulate or prescribe the security policies and procedures employed by a college or university, either at home or in its study abroad programs.

Nonetheless, concern for the safety of Americans studying abroad led to the funding and support of the SAFETI (Safety Abroad First-Educational Travel Information) Clearinghouse Project by Department's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). SAFETI develops and disseminates resources to support study abroad program development and implementation, emphasizing issues of health and safety by using a World Wide Web-based Clearinghouse format (http://www.globaled.us/safeti/). This format enhances collaboration between higher education institutions, government, and non-governmental organizations and is part of the Center for Global Education at the University of Southern California. A few of the many resources provided to study abroad program administrators by the FIPSE/SAFETI Clearinghouse include study abroad orientation course descriptions, a Safety Re-Entry Survey to track safety incidents abroad, study abroad workshop postings and an audit checklist of safety and health issues that should be considered in developing study abroad programs.

The Department also provides information and links to information that prepare students for safe and academically fulfilling experiences in other parts of the world.

The Department's Network for Education Information website (http://www.ed.gov/NLE/USNEI) provides general guidance to students and educators on study abroad programs and contains links to foreign diplomatic and consular services and country-specific information provided by the Department of State. The Department's campus security web site is also linked to the Department of State's travel warnings and consular information sheets for students considering studying in a foreign country (http://www.ed.gov/offices/OPE/PPI/security.html).

The Department of State provides a number of publications and resources for students to review prior to going abroad. These include Consular Information Sheets, Public Announcements and Travel Warnings that pertain to particular countries and provide an overview of conditions pertaining to travel. The State Department provides a list of Consular Officers that can help in an emergency as well as a list of services and information available to American citizens abroad (http://travel.state.gov/travel_warnings.html). The Department of State collects information about American citizens who are victims of crime in foreign countries, when those crimes are reported. It is our understanding that this information is used as a basis for the Consular Information Program documents for the public, and informing U.S. Government employees of potential dangers.

Another, much more limited, source of information on student safety abroad are the campus crime statistics that institutions participating in the Title IV student financial assistance programs are required to annually disclose to current and prospective students and employees under Campus Security Act of 1990. In 1998, the HEA was amended to add a provision requiring each participating institution to submit its campus crime statistics to the Department of Education, enabling the Department to make these crime statistics publicly available. Campus crime statistics for all participating institutions should be available by October 17, 2000 at http://ope.ed.gov/security so that parents and students have the benefit of this information when selecting a college or a program of study offered at a branch campus abroad.

A branch campus of a participating institution located in a foreign country must disclose campus crime policies and statistics in a separate report. However, the disclosure of this information is problematic to say the least. Disclosure of crime statistics for study abroad programs is often not required because the administrative arrangements in place to support U.S. college and university study abroad programs are often not considered branch campuses. For example, a consortium of U.S. colleges and universities may administer a study abroad program, by an independent domestic or international study abroad company or provider organization, by a foreign, non-participating institution or by a combination of these types of programs.

The disclosure of study abroad program crime statistics is further complicated by the statutory requirement that institutions compile statistics on crime in accordance with the definitions used in the uniform crime reporting system of the U.S. Department of Justice. Crime may be defined differently under the crime reporting system in place in the country in which a study abroad program or branch campus is located. The Campus Security Act is written to conform to the American criminal justice system, not the wide variety of criminal justice systems in place in foreign nations.

Lastly, once abroad, students often travel to sections of a foreign city or visit other countries that have no connection to their study abroad program. This also causes confusion as to an institution's reporting responsibilities under the Campus Security Act.

Speaking as the past president of a college which enjoyed seeing about one-half of its students study abroad for at least a semester, let me add that I am very impressed with the skill and dedication of college and university professionals whose job it is to arrange for overseas study. The students' safety is a matter of the utmost concern for them. Most institutions counsel students very thoroughly and stay in close touch with students while they are abroad. Furthermore, in each of our centers we had carefully worked out evacuation plans should it become necessary to bring our students home.

There are helpful resources and information available to institutional study abroad program administrators, students, and the parents of students, who are planning to undertake a program of study abroad. Using the resources available through the Departments of Education and State to learn about campus crime statistics, the history, culture, politics, customs and laws of destination countries, existing travel warnings, and what precautions to take while studying abroad can help in keeping the study abroad experience fulfilling and safe for all American students.

Thank you again for the opportunity to address this important issue.

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