Update on the Department of Education’s Dear Colleague Letter Guidance

The Forum is pleased to share that the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has announced that study abroad is exempt from its Dear Colleague Letter Guidance on “(GEN-23-03) Requirements and Responsibilities for Third-Party Servicers and Institutions” that was first issued on Wednesday, February 15. The DOE has also shared that they are rescinding the prohibition against foreign ownership.

Please find more highlights from the DOE announcement shared on April 11 below:

We received significant and helpful feedback in the form of more than 1,000 comments. The careful review of these comments and consideration of any revisions to the guidance letter will take time. We know that many institutions and companies have already begun to analyze their contracts in anticipation of reporting and compliance deadlines, and we understand the concerns that can cause. We are therefore providing additional time for institutions and companies to come into compliance with the guidance.  Specifically, we will delay the effective date of the guidance letter, and the September 1, 2023, date will no longer be in effect. The effective date of the revised final guidance letter will be at least six months after its publication, to allow institutions and companies to meet any reporting requirements. Deadlines for audit and contractual requirements will follow in fiscal years that begin after the effective date for the reporting requirements.  

 In the meantime, we wanted to highlight several key pieces of information that we think the community should be aware of right away.  

 Here is what we want everyone to know: 

  • There are several activities that generated hundreds of comments but are not subject to third-party servicer requirements under the guidance. The Department does not consider contracts involving the following activities to constitute third-party servicer relationships:  
  • Study abroad programs.  
  • Recruitment of foreign students not eligible for Title IV aid.  
  • Clinical or externship opportunities that meet requirements under existing regulations because they are closely monitored by qualified personnel at an institution.  
  • Course-sharing consortia and arrangements between Title IV-eligible institutions to share employees to teach courses or process financial aid.   
  • Dual or concurrent enrollment programs provided through agreements with high schools and local education agencies, which are exempt because they do not involve students receiving Title IV aid.   


Read more about the update on the DOE blog.

The announcement was posted on the same day that Forum Board Chair John Lucas and Forum President and CEO Melissa Torres presented public comments on behalf of 700+ members at the U.S. Department of Education Public Hearings on Higher Education Rulemaking on Tuesday, April 11. (Read Torres’ full comments below.) The public comments were the most recent activity in The Forum’s robust efforts to support the field of education abroad since the DCL was first issued in February.

Some of The Forum’s advocacy activities included:

    • Notifying and issuing guidance to members and fellow education abroad associations on March 9;
    • providing online resources for all to access and share on March 13;
    • convening a group of IE associations on March 16;
    • hosting a legal briefing webinar attended by more than 700 participants on March 17;
    • including an advocacy corner at the Annual Conference, where attendees could submit their comments on site from March 22-24;
    • submitting a comment letter to the DOE on March 31; and now
    • sharing remarks during our public hearing comment slot on April 11.


The Forum is grateful to have collaborated with the education abroad community to ensure that key groups were exempt from the DCL. “Thank you to everyone who showed up, listened, took action, sent letters, shared comments, and showed your support to help your colleagues—and future students—with speed and determination,” said Torres. “You are the reason why this field is able to change the lives of so many students around the globe…and will continue to have that opportunity for years to come. I am honored to advocate for you and alongside you.”


President & CEO Melissa Torres’ Comments from April 11

Thank you. I’m Melissa Torres, President & CEO of The Forum on Education Abroad. The Forum is a non-profit, membership association recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission as the Standards Development Organization (SDO) for the field of education abroad. On behalf of our 722 institutional members, representing two- and four-year colleges and the education abroad organizations with whom they partner, I respectfully submit the following comments on the Departments DCL GEN 23-03 issued on February 15th:

Study abroad programs are widely recognized as a High Impact Practice leading to greater academic achievement. If the DCL is implemented as written, it will likely result in a complete halt in participation in education abroad by students receiving Title IV funding, since many rely on this funding to study abroad. It is imperative that the Department act urgently to exclude education abroad programs from this guidance.

The DCL would severely disadvantage students with financial need—who are often from underrepresented and underserved populations. As research by The Consortium for Analysis of Student Success through International Education demonstrates, education abroad provides particular benefits to students receiving need-based aid, leading to higher graduation rates and higher GPAs than comparable students who do not study abroad.

The DCL would also exacerbate pre-existing economic disparities because study abroad serves as an important component of workforce development as students prepare to work in an increasingly global economy. Excluding students who rely on aid from participating in international internships and co-ops, an important segment of education abroad programming, at the precise moment when it is critical for the United States to develop a globally savvy workforce, is contrary to the Department’s own goals. As a country, we cannot afford to disenfranchise a large segment of our future workforce.

Many of the skills that employers demand are commonly associated with study abroad, including intercultural communication, language acquisition, resilience, adaptability, and cultural awareness. An unintended outcome of this guidance would be to limit student access to careers that require advanced language and diplomacy skills, since study abroad programs are one of the primary means of foreign language training.  And as a nation, we will all suffer, should the US experience a decrease in its capacity for international understanding and competitiveness because students have been prevented from developing the critically important skills attained during these programs.

The DCL also poses safety concerns for students. Contrary to basic international risk management principles, the DCL would forbid hiring local experts to plan itineraries, book safe transportation, and reserve safe housing. Being required to hire a U.S. citizen to plan activities in a foreign country is not a best practice and does not make sense. More importantly, planning such activities without local, on-the-ground experience and understanding of risks can put students in dangerous situations.

We note the Department’s concern regarding its ability to recover Title IV aid against foreign entities generally does not apply in the ed abroad context. since most foreign academic and ed abroad organizations have no role in administering Title IV aid.

As the academic year draws to a close, students planning to begin their study abroad programs in August and September are already being advised that they may not be able to utilize Title IV funds as planned. It is imperative that the Department act urgently to exclude education abroad, international internship programs, and providers from the scope of the DCL. Thank you