Fanta Aw Encourages Continued Stakeholder Input on Third-Party Servicer Issues

The following remarks were delivered by Fanta Aw on April 12, 2023, during a U.S. Department of Education virtual public hearing on improving institutional quality and accountability. Aw spoke on proposed departmental changes to the definition of third-party servicers, which were partly addressed in an April 11 update after coordinated advocacy by NAFSA and its coalition partners.

Good morning. My name is Fanta Aw, and I am the executive director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Thank you for this opportunity to speak today. 

On behalf of our thousands of members and partners in the United States and worldwide, let me begin by commending the U.S. Department of Education for announcing on April 11 that it will clarify and amend its February 15 guidance regarding third-party servicers (TPS).

As it was originally written, the February 15 guidance posed a grave threat to U.S. students’ access to the global skills, experiences, and perspectives they need to thrive in today’s economy. It also ran counter to an important goal of Title IV programs, which is to provide greater education opportunities to a wider swath of U.S. students. 

NAFSA and its coalition partners were among the more than 1,000 commenters on the guidance. We pressed the department to rescind or defer it and revise it in critical ways. It is gratifying to see a swift response to some of our concerns. 

For example, we are heartened to see that the department will exempt contracts involving study abroad programs and international student recruitment from TPS requirements. It also intends to remove the provision barring a foreign-owned TPS from contracting with a U.S college or university.

The changes communicated in the April 11 update are incredibly meaningful to higher education and its ability to prepare U.S. students for a globally connected world. International partnerships are truly the lifeblood of most study abroad programs. They are also an essential component of international student recruitment efforts in today’s increasingly competitive market for the world’s best and brightest.

We were also pleased to see in April 11's announcement that the department intends to consider narrowing the scope of the guidance in several areas. 

We strongly agree and urge the department to limit the TPS definition to only contracts involving an institution’s administration of Title IV program funding. It should not include entities related to educational programming, student retention, or logistical or technical support that do not involve the administration of Title IV program funds.

We remain concerned, however, that keeping a broader scope of entities under the TPS umbrella could stifle or disrupt the wide range of transnational partnerships that currently exist in U.S. academia. These partnerships enable students, scholars, and faculty to study, earn a degree, intern, and conduct research at institutions abroad—either virtually or in person. 

We advise the department to follow the Administrative Procedure Act rulemaking process if it wishes to include any nonfinancial activities in the TPS definition. 

We stand ready and eager with our partners to help the department finalize this guidance in such a way that maintains U.S. students’ ability to reap the many benefits that accrue from a globally enriched education. 

Thank you for this opportunity to express these comments today. We look forward to working with the department to address these critical concerns.