Study abroad law may adapt

A state office is recommending an amendment to change how incidents abroad are logged.

by Benjamin Farniok

A Minnesota Office of Higher Education report released earlier this month recommends amending a new state law that requires higher education institutions to report incidents, like hospitalizations and deaths, among students studying abroad.

The proposed change would clarify the law and tighten the reporting regulations related to sexual assault, theft, missing people and other incidents. Currently, there is little data that shows the rates of these incidents among study abroad students and other travelers, according to the report.

The existing law, passed last legislative session, is the first of its kind in the United States, according to the OHE.

The office sent out a survey to Minnesota colleges and universities — including the University of Minnesota — last year to measure the number of students traveling abroad by country, cases of death and hospitalization, along with institutions’ level of compliancy with national health and safety standards in 2014-15.

“Right now, the institutions are tracking participation in study abroad, as well as incidents that may need to be reported,” said Maren Gelle Henderson, OHE’s legislative liaison.

Though legislators reviewed the report earlier this month, discussion over potential changes will likely wait until the survey’s results are released, said Sen. Teri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, who authored the original law.

“We thought we’d start here, look at the first report, and if we think we are missing something after we get the data, we’ll go back at it,” Bonoff said.

OHE expects to release the survey’s results next January.

But students may not report some types of incidents, which could make the data less reliable and that is concerning, she said.

Stacey Tsantir, director of the University’s International Health, Safety and Compliance for the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance, said rates of incidents, like death and hospitalization, are low among University study abroad students.

More than 2,500 students studied abroad in 2012-13, and of those, 103 reported incidents ranging from illness to theft, according to data gathered by the department.

In 2013-14, that number increased to 136 cases, and the most common occurrence was student illness and hospitalization.

Tsantir said the University requires students traveling abroad to have insurance that covers things like hospital visits, transportation or flying a family member to the country.

Henderson said OHE doesn’t have authority to request more specific information than what is included in the existing law, but the office wants to amend the rule so institutions disclose more detailed information.