UPDATE: Great News, DOE Excludes Study Abroad from Department of Education’s Third-Party Servicer Guidance

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We are thrilled to share that the Department of Education has recently announced that it does not consider contracts involving study abroad programs to constitute third-party servicer relationships. 

We always hoped that this guidance would be amended, but are happy and relieved that it took place so quickly.  Study abroad and the world will be a better place because there will continue to be greater access to study abroad! 

Read the full announcement here, and see the specific excerpt below: 

In the meantime, we wanted to highlight several key pieces of information that we think the community should be aware of right away.   

Here is what we want everyone to know: 

  • There are several activities that generated hundreds of comments but are not subject to third-party servicer requirements under the guidance. The Department does not consider contracts involving the following activities to constitute third-party servicer relationships:  
    • Study abroad programs.  
    • Recruitment of foreign students not eligible for Title IV aid.  
    • Clinical or externship opportunities that meet requirements under existing regulations because they are closely monitored by qualified personnel at an institution.  
    • Course-sharing consortia and arrangements between Title IV-eligible institutions to share employees to teach courses or process financial aid.   
    • Dual or concurrent enrollment programs provided through agreements with high schools and local education agencies, which are exempt because they do not involve students receiving Title IV aid.   
    • Local police departments helping to compile and analyze crime statistics, unless they write or file a report on behalf of an institution for compliance purposes.  
    • The Department will identify any other services that fall into this category as we review comments.   



On Tuesday, April 11th, IES Abroad's President and CEO, Gregory D. Hess, Ph.D., provided public comments at the Public Hearings on Higher Education Rulemaking to reaffirm the importance of study abroad as well as highlight concerns with the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) recent Dear Colleague letter providing guidance on “(GEN-23-03) Requirements and Responsibilities for Third-Party Servicers and Institutions”.

These comments are a follow-up to IES Abroad's  letter submitted to the Department of Education on March 23 regarding the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) recent Dear Colleague letter.

For nearly 75 years, our mission has been to make study abroad accessible and to deliver the highest quality academic programs possible, and this new guidance would make fulfilling our mission very difficult.

We firmly believe in the power of study abroad to change lives, and we will do everything in our power to be an advocate for study abroad, to continue our mission, and make study abroad a possibility for your students.

We will continue to advocate for study abroad to ensure future students can have the opportunity to experience the benefits that come from greater knowledge and understanding of other languages and cultures. 

Full Public Comments by Dr. Gregory D. Hess, Ph.D., President & CEO, IES Abroad | April 11th at 10:51 a.m. 

Good Morning. Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

My name is Gregory Hess, and I am President and CEO of IES Abroad, a not-for-profit study abroad provider. 

We have an academic consortium of 270 top-tier U.S. Colleges and universities and more than 240 additional partner universities worldwide.

Our consortium approves every single course we teach. We send over 8,000 students abroad every year, and while we don’t directly receive federal financial aid, we do supplement it and support students by providing our own additional financial aid exceeding $6 million annually.

My goal is to speak to the unintended devastating and damaging impacts to the study abroad industry and the university students we serve from the Title 4 funding guidelines laid out in the February 28th Revised “Dear Colleague” letter.

Better still, I will propose a solution.

Study abroad changed my life, it has changed many lives, and changed lives change the world. And we all know that the world needs change.

We need thoughtful, interculturally effective, and productive global citizens more than ever – substantial evidence demonstrates that these are part of the personal and professional skills students gain through study abroad.

However, the recent DOE’s proposed guidance would make it impossible for students to experience study abroad’s benefits and make it inaccessible for students receiving federal aid. 

This is NOT the change we need!

I do not believe it is the intent of the DCL to bar participation in study abroad by the 85% of college students who receive federal financial aid.

But that’s what would happen with the DCL’s guidance.

The DCL’s new definition of “third-party servicers” could include all services that would be provided to students outside of the US: emergency medical care, in person health and wellness services, classes at foreign universities, housing, classroom space, transportation, and more.

This new definition will prohibit students from using Title 4 federal aid to pay for study abroad experiences, including with U.S. accredited institutions, if the servicer or subcontractor is owned or operated outside of the U.S.

The DCL’s expanded guidance regarding activities unrelated to handling Title 4 funds appears to make it impossible for a provider of study abroad services to operate anywhere in the world if they utilize foreign sub-contractors. 

Please know that EVERY single study abroad program, no matter the operator, relies on overseas sub-contractors for these types of services, which could no longer be provided to students under the new definition.

In our public comment we proposed a solution -- a narrower definition of a third-party servicer that excludes study abroad providers. This is how the DOE has operated for years until this recent Dear Colleague Letter, and we believe our carveout is grounded in legislative intent.

I urge you to revise the proposal and ensure that students who receive federal financial aid can continue to benefit from participating in study abroad programs.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden wrote in an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “We know that education is the key to unlocking human potential.” I’m sure that’s why Dr. Jill Biden dedicates her professional life to serving post-secondary students. And, I’m sure that shared commitment at the institution she serves is why, Northern Virginia Community College, allows financial aid to be used to help students study abroad.

Why take that away from them?

Creating opportunities for study abroad, for students of lesser means, is the way you unlock human potential.

Let’s not impose unintended rules that eliminate a study abroad opportunity that will change their lives for the good.

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“We need thoughtful, interculturally effective, and productive global citizens more than ever – substantial evidence demonstrates that these are part of the personal and professional skills students gain through study abroad.”
Gregory H. • President & CEO of IES Abroad
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