Global Engagement Solutions for Higher Education


Travel Policy at Texas Christian University

January 27, 2021


Policy creation, or reevaluation, is especially relevant at this time as we have learned lessons from Spring 2020 and as we consider the return to travel. In a recent Terra Dotta webinar, Dr. Sandra Callaghan, Director of the Center for International Studies at Texas Christian University (TCU) shared their policy approach that covers international travel, as well as study abroad. 

When considering a successful or effective approach to travel policy, it's important to first consider institutional characteristics:

  • Mid-sized, private institution
  • Approximately 11,500 students, 9,700 undergraduates
  • 35% of students study abroad
  • High faculty interest in study abroad
  • High level of employee travel

When Dr. Callaghan assumed the director role three years ago, TCU’s travel policy was loosely defined, emergency response was not guided by established protocols, and some policies were outdated while others were weak. Her first goal, therefore, was to provide some structure and establish policy 一 a process that took about two years.

Build your case

Dr. Callaghan’s first step in creating a centralized policy was to build a case and articulate the need for the policy. The most significant resource in building the case was an external audit of programs, processes, and procedures related to study abroad and international travel. The audit uncovered several weaknesses and risks, which helped determine how she would proceed. She also benchmarked across peer institutions and, because the policy had broad impact, made sure that she could articulate to various constituents why this policy is needed.

Moving forward, Dr. Callaghan positioned the policy with respect to risk mitigation which included health and safety risks, financial risks, and reputational risk for the institution.

Clearly define your objective

Now, it’s time to identify your target. Solving everything on your first pass may make the process more difficult if not impossible to achieve. Therefore, start by identifying what you can realistically solve in the near term. For Dr. Callaghan, that was international travel and study abroad within academic affairs. Because these were areas that her office had more control over, this is where she started in her policy creation journey.

As the process proceeded, however, she began to gain traction from student affairs, administrative organizations, and even athletics. By bringing in interested stakeholders from those areas to work on a policy, Dr. Callaghan was able to achieve her ultimate goal, a single university policy. While a single university policy was her original objective, identifying attainable goals along the way were her first priority and important to her success.

Patience and positioning

Dr. Callaghan noted that in defining how you want to move forward, it’s important to have patience and to always position your objectives in a way that the campus community understands. She said, “This was not an easy process across our campus; it pushed a lot of buttons in a lot of different units. As evidence, it took me two years to get through this policy.”

She further emphasized, “Be deliberate, clear, and inclusive.” One of the ways in which she did this was by creating the image below, so everyone she presented to understood what the proposed structures and processes looked like in a very clear way.

For example, the process for policy approval was to start with several different bodies, including an international travel task force that was inclusive and had a clear charge. It was then passed on to the Provost Council and to Student Affairs, and finally to the Chancellor’s Cabinet.

FThis image was just one way in which she helped stakeholders visualize what needed to be centralized and how. In addition to the visual, she also had examples on-hand of recent student, employee and program issues in order to demonstrate the need for policy to mitigate risk.

Build support

By working with various departments, Dr. Callaghan also had a growing level of support, and she never turned down an invitation to discuss international travel policy. In numerous meetings, she made key partners who had similar interests; those included risk management, financial services, and legal counsel. By coming together, they were able to develop a policy that met shared objectives and involved key functions.

Demonstrate expertise

Everyone on campus tends to know a little bit about international travel and study abroad, but what they may not realize is that efforts of international offices are also driven by research. It’s your challenge to demonstrate your expertise and help them understand why the decision-making and policy creation needs to run through international education offices.

Dr. Callaghan added, “We engaged Terra Dotta, we engaged our travel assistance provider, and we invited them to campus for different reasons. They helped as we connected with our administration, and made our case for a stronger policy.”

Moving forward

Lastly, Dr. Callaghan mentioned that it is important to remember that you will always be presented with opportunities and with more issues to solve. She commented that you have to understand where your university’s current priorities and environment. For Texas Christian University, they were at a point of getting policy fatigue. Now, coming out of COVID-19, she sees a huge opportunity to move the bar further.

"So don't let this crisis go to waste. Start making plans and thinking about how you can move your bar to the next level." - Dr. Sandra Callaghan

Looking for more resources to prepare for the return to travel? Learn how other universities have evaluated and restructured their travel policies in Terra Dotta’s E-Book: Return to Travel: Policy and Practice for a Safer Journey.