Key Considerations When Implementing, Expanding Or Administering A Study Abroad Program

White and Williams Education Law News Alert | January 31, 2013
By: Nancy Conrad and George C. Morrison

Colleges and universities are continuing to expand study abroad programs for their students.  While study abroad programs provide students with invaluable international experiences and opportunities, administration of these programs raises legal issues that can range from student safety to international immigration and taxation law. The following provides a brief overview of some of the issues that may arise.

  • Program Structure — The level of risk associated with an international program may depend on the level of ownership and control that a college or university home campus exercises over the program. Programs are typically characterized as Institution Owned, Contractual (programs offered via cooperative arrangements), or Permissive (programs that permit students to enroll at another institution with no formal written or verbal agreement). Some institutions implement a hybrid of these programs. Identifying a program structure is a critical first step in determining the legal issues or risks that may exist and what policies should be implemented to minimize risk.
  • Contractual Relationships ­— If a program involves a contract between the home institution and another institution or organization, a careful determination as to what contractual provisions to include within the contract should be made in consultation with legal counsel. Key provisions may include, but are not limited to, indemnification, forum selection, insurance coverage, and the reporting of student conduct and safety concerns. 
  • Immigration and Taxation ­— To the extent a college or university operates a program in a foreign country, that foreign country’s immigration and taxation laws may be implicated.  Many countries have strict laws regarding non-nationals obtaining work authorizations and/or visas before engaging in any employment related activities. Both faculty and students will also likely require travel documents, including passports and certain travel visas. Depending on the extent of its operations, an institution may also be required to seek authorization from a foreign government to carry on business related activities and may be obligated to pay taxes related to those activities.
  • Student Conduct and Extraterritorial Application of U.S. Law —  Study abroad programs are subject to Title IX, including provisions regarding policies and procedures concerning sexual harassment and sexual assault. The Clery Act can also apply to overseas programs. Institutions should carefully draft policies that address these and other applicable United States laws, as well as policies that address student discipline, emergencies, and violations of foreign laws.

When implementing, expanding or administering study abroad programs, colleges and universities should carefully consider both foreign and domestic legal implications and related risks. Please contact either Nancy Conrad (610.782.4909; conradn@whiteandwilliams.com), George Morrison (610.782.4911; morrisong@whiteandwilliams.com), or any member of our Education Law Group for assistance with the review, development, or revision of the policies and procedures associated with a study abroad program.   

This correspondence should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult a lawyer concerning your own situation with any specific legal question you may have.