Legislators work to send more American students abroad

UT’s Public Information Office

Legislation currently under consideration in Congress aims to send at least 1 million undergraduate students abroad each year.

The Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act cites studies that show U.S. students score below their counterparts in other advanced countries. The act aims to address American students’ lack of information about international affairs and the need to produce more foreign language speakers.

The U.S. House unanimously approved the bill June 5. The legislation fulfills the goal of late Sen. Paul Simon, D-Illinois, to send at least 1 million students abroad annually.

The Senate is expected to take up the legislation soon.

John Sunnygard, director of the University of Texas Center for Global Education Opportunities, said given the role the United States plays in the world, it’s important that there be a broad cross-section of people with international exposure.

“Those of us who see students when they come back from studying abroad know that these students have grown,” Sunnygard said. “They’ve got a much greater sense of self-confidence, a much greater understanding of the world, of the United States in the world, of themselves as a cultural entity, and they tend to be very effective when they get out into the professional world.”

The bill provides $80 million for a national study abroad program to be administered by the proposed Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation. Through public-private partnerships, the foundation would administer grants to students, institutions of higher education and nongovernmental institutions that provide and promote study abroad opportunities.

Sunnygard said the U.S. currently sends about 200,000 Americans abroad annually and about 2 million receive undergraduate degrees each year.

“[The bill] would mean sending about half of the graduating population abroad,” Sunnygard said. “The impact that would have on this country and on the world will be phenomenal.”

According to the bill, only 1 percent of students attending institutions of higher learning in the United States participate in study abroad programs, and less than 10 percent of graduates with bachelor’s degrees have studied abroad.

If passed, the bill will reach the benchmark of sending 1 million students abroad every year within the next 10 years.

Among the legislation’s primary goals is to attract a more diverse student population studying abroad in “non-traditional locales” such as the Middle East and Africa.

Hannah Perrine, a linguistics junior who studied in Italy last fall, said students interested in studying abroad should be interested in the culture of the country they choose in order to avoid frustration and make the most of their experience.

“The main thing is just to enjoy yourself,” Perrine said. “There are nights that I look back on, you get tired, but it was the coolest experience of my life.”

This article was originally reported in the Daily Texan (University of Texas).

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