When Elizabeth Brenner’s 20-year-old son Thomas died while hiking during a study-abroad trip in India, she began searching for other cases and found only partial data and anecdotal records.
“Nobody was keeping track of this at all,” she said.
Brenner’s son, Thomas Plotkin, was one of the millions of American students who have studied abroad in the last decade — part of a growing global youth travel industry estimated to be worth $183 billion a year.
The number of American students studying abroad has doubled in the last decade. But while US colleges and universities must report deaths on their campuses, they are not required to disclose most student deaths that occur abroad and the US Department of Education keeps no such statistics.
A group called the Forum on Education Abroad pulled together information for 2014 from two insurance companies that together cover half of the US study-abroad market. The group used the partial data to conclude in a 2016 report that students are less likely to die overseas than on a US campus.
Brenner and other parents slammed the report, saying the findings are misleading and give parents the idea that programs are safer than they may actually be.
The forum is now planning to release a new report later this year with information for 2010-15, but it will still cover only half of the market. The forum’s head, Brian Whalen, said they tried to get the exact number of student deaths overseas from the US State Department, but were told it wasn’t available.
“Knowing which areas are hotspots for violent crime is important information for kids and parents to know when they’re making decisions on where they’ll study abroad,” said Rep. Sean Maloney, a Democrat from New York who introduced the Ravi Thackurdeen Safe Study Abroad Act in Congress in 2014 and plans to reintroduce it in September.