IES Abroad’s Response to U.S. Department of Education’s Recent Guidance for Third-Party Servicers & Institutions

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IES Abroad
March 24, 2023

IES Abroad submitted the following letter to the Department of Education on March 23 regarding the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) Dear Colleague letter providing guidance on “(GEN-23-03) Requirements and Responsibilities for Third-Party Servicers and Institutions,” issued on Wednesday, February 15 and updated on Tuesday, February 28.

These proposed guidelines could make it impossible for students to study abroad, especially students receiving financial aid. For nearly 75 years, our mission has been to make study abroad accessible and to deliver the highest quality academic programs possible. We firmly believe in the power of study abroad to change lives, ours included.

If you would like to submit an individual response in support of study abroad or write to your representative, we encourage you to do so before the deadline on March 30!

You can also find more information about submitting a response on The Forum on Education Abroad’s Take Action page.

IES Abroad's Letter

I write to you today on behalf of IES Abroad in response to the information contained in the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) Dear Colleague letter providing guidance on “(GEN-23-03) Requirements and Responsibilities for Third-Party Servicers and Institutions,” issued on Wednesday, February 15 and updated on Tuesday, February 28.

IES Abroad is a Chicago, Illinois, not-for-profit provider of study abroad academic programs.  IES Abroad was founded to provide study abroad programs in 1950 and it serves a consortium of more than 270 United States public, land-grant institutions and private colleges and universities, educating more than 8.000 students a year.  More than 120,000 students have participated in IES Abroad programs since our founding in 1950.  IES Abroad supports students through financial aid exceeding $6 million annually, including many students from HBCUs and HSIs.

On behalf of the thousands of US students prepared to study abroad this fall on IES Abroad programs, we want to bring to your attention serious concerns about the proposed guidance as currently written, in particular the sections which state that Title IV funding cannot be used by students

  • “if the servicer (or its subcontractors) is located outside of the United States or is owned or operated by an individual who is not a U.S. citizen or national or a lawful U.S. permanent resident. This prohibition applies to both foreign and domestic institutions.”
  • “Institutions will be required to report any arrangements with third-party servicers that have not been reported to the Department, and entities…”

The expansion in the new guidance of any organization or individual providing instructional course content greatly broadens the definition of third-party servicers, including any individual or organization delivering instruction, assessing student learning, or developing curricula or course materials.  

Of even greater concern is the expanded guidance concerning activities unrelated to handling Title IV funds, that appears to makes it impossible for a provider of study abroad services to operate anywhere in the world if they utilize foreign sub-contractors, such as instructors or providers of housing or classroom space.  The entire study abroad field relies on overseas sub-contractors to deliver critical on-the-ground, in-country student health and wellness services, which could no longer be provided to students under the new definition.   

The guidance appears unclear as to what the actual definition of a sub-contractor is.  If the guidance is declaring that any individual or organization providing service to a student overseas is a sub-contractor and therefore not able to provide services to US students, it would be impossible for US universities, colleges or study abroad providers to conduct study abroad programs.  

Also, since the new regulations would disproportionately impact students of need, when compared with students who come from wealthier families, it would prevent tens of thousands of needy students from benefitting from the life changing experience of studying abroad.  It will also reduce the number of students who can study abroad, we could see significant negative impact on graduation rates, and life changing opportunities, since many schools make studying abroad a requirement for graduation. 

We understand that the new guidance will go into effect September 1, 2023, with an opportunity to provide public comment in March.   This letter serves as our public comment on behalf of IES Abroad.

In summary, the proposed guidance would make it impossible for IES Abroad to serve US colleges and universities and their students.   As such, the guidance as currently drafted will devastate the study abroad field, making it impossible for students and the United States to experience the benefits that come from greater knowledge and understanding of other languages and cultures, and to gain critical global perspectives.

We respectfully request that you rescind the above areas of concern so that students from schools in every part of the United States will be able to study abroad, as their predecessors have for nearly 75 years through IES Abroad.


Gregory D. Hess

President & CEO, IES Abroad

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