Since January 2008, the Attorney General of Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, has been leading an ongoing investigation into college and university study-abroad deals with program providers.
In addition to Wesleyan, Blumenthal has requested records from nine other Connecticut higher-education institutions, including Yale and Trinity. Fourteen months later, the state has yet to release its conclusions from the investigation.
Blumenthal is investigating whether institutions such as Wesleyan entered into contracts with study-abroad companies for business reasons, rather than for the quality of the program or student experiences. He is also investigating whether administrators were lured into advertising one program more favorably than another by free trips, gifts, and other incentives. Universities were required to submit records of their financial transactions for verification. The inquiry parallels the investigation being led in New York by Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo.
As Blumenthal explained, these inquiries are ongoing; few details have been released.
“Wesleyan has been cooperative,” Blumenthal said. “I can’t predict when it will be over. I can’t comment on the specifics.”
According to David Winakor, General Counsel for Finance and Administration,
the University has not received any further requests regarding the relationship between the Office of International Studies (OIS) and study-abroad program providers.
“We were told at the time we submitted this [February 2008] that our policies were very favorable,” Winakor explained.
The University spends its own money to fly staff overseas for program evaluations, as opposed to taking kickbacks from study-abroad providers. John Meerts, Vice President for Finance and Administration, explained that the financial records submitted to the attorney show that the school actually loses money through the study-abroad program. In the 2006-2007 academic year, the University incurred a net loss of nearly a half-million dollars through the study-abroad programs.
“What we submitted was that the [study-abroad] program costs us more than it generates,” Meerts said. “If we want to make the program available to all Wesleyan students, including those on financial aid, we have to charge home-school tuition.”
In 1994, the University established the home-school tuition policy through discussions between a faculty and student task force, administrators, and the Board of Trustees.
“Our aim is to provide a high quality study-abroad experience…at a cost that is fair to all of our students, including those on financial aid,” wrote Carolyn Sorkin, Director of the OIS, in an e-mail to the Argus.
Over the past few years, however, the Office of International Study (OIS) has received complaints from several students regarding the home-school tuition charge. Student complaints from as far back as 2001 are also being reviewed in this investigation.
According to Carolyn Sorkin, however, the advantages of the policy often persuade students and parents of its practicality.
“Once students and parents understand the benefits gained from the policy—particularly the equal access to study abroad afforded by our being able to apply institutional financial aid to programs—the issue is resolved,” Sorkin wrote.