Report collects data on students abroad

The University was one of 41 schools to submit safety and health information.

by Hannah Weikel

Few Minnesota students were hospitalized while studying abroad last year, according to a recent report. 
As of last year, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education is required to gather information about students who died or were hospitalized while studying internationally. The office’s first annual report, released earlier this month, showed that 28 out of the 10,000 Minnesota students who studied abroad during the 2014-15 academic year were hospitalized.
The University of Minnesota was one of 41 schools to submit safety and health information in the report. University students accounted for more than a quarter of students in Minnesota who studied abroad last year.
There were fewer than 10 hospitalizations and no deaths in the University’s programs last year, according to the report.  
“The low number of incidents and high number of students studying abroad is a good indication of the preparation and information students are getting from us,” said Katie Van Geem, University associate director of international health, safety and compliance. 
She said the University has tracked hospitalizations, death and safety of students in their programs for years through an online incident database.
Whenever a student falls ill or is injured abroad, a professor or program leader would notify the University and add specific information about the incident into a database, Van Geem said. 
Now the University will submit that information — including program type, program host and country — for the Office of Higher Education’s report at the end of each academic year.
The law requests schools report incidents that required hospitalization and “occurred during program participation as a result of program participation,” so incidents that happened during the students’ free time or didn’t demand medical attention weren’t included in the report.
Because of the law’s requirements, incidents are under-reported, said Sheryl Hill, founder and executive director of ClearCause, a Minnesota-based nonprofit. 
“The report is very thin,” she said. “They don’t report what sort of incident it was, like rape, or program types and countries — all the things that are important for students and parents to know.”
Minnesota Office of Higher Education Commissioner Larry Pogemiller said the government can’t require reporting that could breach student privacy. 
Van Geem said information about a small pool of people that is specific enough could be traced to a single student.
Sexual assault was kept out of the report for that reason, Pogemiller said. But because it is an important issue on college campuses, the OHE hopes to include more specific data in future reports, he said.
OHE research analyst and creator of the report Nichole Sorenson said sexual assault was only included in the report if the student was hospitalized. 
The number of reported incidents was smaller than anticipated, Sorenson said, and schools were asked to over-report occurrences to the OHE to avoid any being looked over.
Sorenson said they will gather information not published in the report each year and plan to publish trends over time without harming students’ privacy.
“We will be able to aggregate the numbers over the years,” she said. “In the future there will be things we can do extra, but for now there is only so much we can do with the data.”