Study abroad office examines communications strategy after unsanctioned third-party program attracts some students

The third-party provider Global Student Embassy approached Geneseo students for a Nicaragua study abroad program over winter break, providing monetary incentives to student recruiters and falsely affiliating with the college.

Approximately 20 Geneseo students attended the trip sponsored by the organization, which was not officially recognized by the college or SUNY, to Nicaragua over winter break, according to Assistant Director of Geneseo Study Abroad Emily Froome. 

The organization works primarily with past participants of their program, who might be students at Geneseo, and offers them the potential to be awarded a free trip based on how well they recruit other students for the program, according to Froome. 

“Typically, what this provider does is they work with students who’ve been on their programs in the past … and they have those students help recruit Geneseo students to go on this program in the future,” Froome said. “In return, sometimes the students who have helped recruit more Geneseo students will get like a free trip or something for recruiting so many students.” 

This method of using students who have previously been through study abroad programs to advise other students interested in study abroad is a common strategy utilized by the Study Abroad Office as well. 

The strategy of providing monetary rewards for student recruiters is where the two recruiting efforts largely differ, as students at Geneseo work on a volunteer basis, according to Associate Director of Study Abroad Samuel Cardamone. 

“There are many things about student recruitment that resemble what our office does, which is past participants help speak to future participants and recruit students,” Cardamone said.  “The big difference is if a Geneseo student recruits or assists in advising another student to go on another program, that student never has the potential to be given, awarded a free program, free trip.”

While this particular trip went by without any issues, Cardamone expressed concerns about study abroad programs not sponsored by a credit-granting institution.

“We have no oversight, we have not checked the safety and security of these programs, we have not checked the academic rigor of these programs and therefore while all of these things might be sound and above board, there’s been absolutely no oversight from SUNY Geneseo to these programs,” Cardamone said. “We believe that students are being misled is what it comes down to. Students are being misled to believe that this is a Geneseo program.” 

The Study Abroad Office was notified that the organization was using the college’s name to attract Geneseo students through faculty members, according to Froome. 

“Students get mixed messages and they come to our office thinking it is our program so they’ll come and ask us questions about it,” Froome said. “We’re not the only SUNY school that this organization has used . . . We let the Center for International Education at SUNY know that this was happening. They had the SUNY legal counsel send a cease and desist letter to this company about using the term SUNY Geneseo and SUNY Albany as it appears on their website.” 

The Forum on Education Abroad provides ethical guidelines to be implemented in study abroad education, which are violated by the recruitment strategy utilized by this third-party provider, according to Cardamone. 

“We don’t think of our educational study abroad programs as sales, so there is no additional recognition or compensation for someone who recruits a lot of students to participate in study abroad,” Cardamone said. “[The Forum of Education Abroad] has explicitly targeted this kind of recruitment strategy as something that runs counter to the ethics of international education.”

Communication strategies could be a strong tool in ensuring students don’t misunderstand what program they’re choosing, Cardamone said. 

“Communication with deans and chairs and faculty members, people who have the ability to award credit to students is important,” Cardamone said. “Hopefully by a student proposing it before they ever participate, they can have it reviewed, determine that this or is not SUNY approved, or is reviewed for health and safety purposes so that students are doing those steps ahead of the program before any financial commitments are made.” 

There is also the issue of potential legal ramifications for the student recruiters, according to Cardamone. 

“The students who are being asked to be recruiters may be venturing into illegal activity by using their Geneseo email address,” Cardamone said. “We’re worried that our students might ultimately be the ones who have to deal with the legal implications of that. We just want to be very clear that students shouldn’t be using their Geneseo email accounts to promote these programs.”

Students may be misled into participating in these programs with the intention of receiving academic credit, according to Froome. 

The Study Abroad Office can work with students to find programs not sponsored by Geneseo or SUNY, but through other credit bearing institutions to suit specific student needs.

“Our office has the expertise to help students interpret some of the language [and in] making informed decisions,” Froome said. “That’s what we want to do. We have to get out there and let students know that we can help them make informed decisions.”


Editor-in-chief Annie Renaud contributed reporting to this article.