Prioritizing student safety abroad

The state legislature should require colleges to ensure the safety of their study abroad programs.

Daily Editorial Board

Studying abroad is one of the best experiences a student can have during college. With the ability to earn credit while living in another country and learning about different cultures, college students in the U.S. are more frequently choosing to study abroad.

According to the Institute for International Education, three times as many students are studying abroad than two decades ago. That amounts to about 270,000 students annually.

However, while many students come home unscathed, incidents do happen. The ClearCause Foundation, as reported in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, estimates that more than 400 American students have died while on study abroad programs over the past 15 years. Students living in an unfamiliar place can also be vulnerable to muggings or theft.

MPR also reported that given the lack of solid federal data on the risks of various study abroad programs, two Minnesota state lawmakers are working on crafting legislation that would bar colleges and universities from granting credit to study abroad programs that do not publish annual safety reports. Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, and Rep. Yvonne Selcer, DFL-Minnetonka, are working to increase accountability for the programs so that students and their parents can compare programs and avoid ones with a high rate of incidents.

Bonoff, who chairs the Higher Education and Workforce Development Division, said that if more accountability is required, programs will want to increase safety to attract more students.

While Congress should look for ways to increase safety and accountability in study abroad programs nationally, progress on the state level is encouraging. Various colleges and universities in the state should not be sending their students overseas without frequent reports about the safety of the program. In the upcoming session, lawmakers should work with Bonoff and Selcer to create and pass legislation that would require more accountability from study abroad programs.