NEW YORK – Study-abroad programs at 15 colleges and universities, including Harvard and Columbia, are being scrutinized by the New York attorney general’s office to ensure that business deals are not cheating students, a top investigator said Monday.
Investigators are focusing on the schools after a probe of more than a dozen companies worldwide that arrange for students to study overseas for as long as a year identified questionable practices.
“We have certainly found indications there are financial relationships between some study-abroad providers and schools and some evidence of perks,” said Benjamin Lawsky, deputy counselor and special assistant to Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo.
An example of a perk would be a program that arranged for a school administrator to stay in a city such as Rome for three weeks, even though it took only four days to examine the plans for the study program there, said Lawsky, who heads Cuomo’s investigations of conflicts of interest on college campuses.
The civil probe is aimed at creating a unified code of conduct to prevent abuse that costs students money.
Lawsky said investigators want to know whether a school chooses a provider “because they’re the best, the cheapest, the most cost effective or because there’s a cozy financial relationship with the school and those who work at the school.”
Some schools that received subpoenas and document requests in recent days were chosen because of the nature of their relationships with study-abroad providers, but the group also could be a sampling of colleges and universities with study-abroad programs.
“There certainly is a much larger number of schools involved with these practices,” Lawsky said.
The study of 10 schools in New York state and five outside it occurs as the number of students getting academic credit for overseas study has risen 150 percent in the past decade.
The New York attorney general’s office says it has jurisdiction to protect New York students and their families wherever they go to school.
The goal of the probe is similar to a yearlong study by Cuomo’s office of the $85 billion student loan industry that led to national reform of the industry and millions of dollars in penalties from dozens of lenders and colleges nationwide. Lawsky headed that probe, as well.