Paul Simon study abroad act back on legislative cards

America’s influential Association of International Educators, known as NAFSA, has welcomed the introduction of the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act to the House of Representatives. The bipartisan bill, also introduced to the Senate in September, is aimed at expanding study abroad opportunities for undergraduate students.

US representatives Cheri Bustos, a Democrat from Illinois, and Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida, introduced the bill, which was introduced to Senate in September by Democrat Richard Durbin.

According to Congress, the bill amends title VII of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to establish the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program. It authorises the Department of Education, under the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, to award grants to higher education institutions or consortia to provide and expand study abroad opportunities for undergraduate students.

Paul Simon

The bill is inspired by the late Paul Simon, a long-time Democrat politician and civil rights advocate who taught at the University of Illinois at Springfield and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard during interregnums in his political career. Afterwards, he founded and taught at the Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.

Legislation to establish the programme has been introduced in previous Congresses, and reportedly enjoys strong bipartisan support. “Senator Paul Simon dedicated his life to improving our world and providing better opportunities for our young people,” said Bustos.

NAFSA, which with more than 10,000 members is the world’s biggest non-profit association dedicated to international education, urged Congress to quickly move the legislation to a vote.

“The bipartisan bill would significantly increase education abroad opportunities for US undergraduate students, providing more graduates with the global and cultural competencies they need to compete in the increasingly interconnected global economy,” NAFSA said in a statement last week.
The bill

While opinion polls showed that Americans believed it important for students to gain intercultural competency and experience, less than 2% of college students studied abroad each year and a recent survey of US businesses found that 40% failed to expand because they lacked the international experience graduates could gain through study abroad.
“The Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act is, at its core, a jobs bill,” said Esther D Brimmer, executive director and CEO of NAFSA. “Its implementation would ensure our nation is prepared to compete in a globalised economy and solve international challenges that know no borders.

“We need more graduates who speak a second language, who understand other cultures and who are comfortable living and working in a global setting. One of the best ways for students to gain these skills is by studying abroad. It is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ for a subset of college students but should be an essential component of a quality higher education.”

Created from recommendations of the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program and the vision of Simon, the legislation has four goals: to boost study abroad participation; expand the diversity of participants; increase the diversity of destinations; and encourage greater commitment to study abroad by universities and colleges.

A cost-effective model

NAFSA said the Simon Act would achieve these goals by providing grants to colleges and universities that demonstrate ways to grow study abroad above and beyond normal growth. The cost-effective model would allow institutions countrywide to apply for competitive grants.

“The US higher education system is large, diverse and decentralised. The beauty of this model is that it puts decision-making into the hands of those closest to the students – the institutions – and asks them to develop a plan that is unique to their challenges and opportunities,” said Brimmer.

“NAFSA has piloted this model through the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund’s public-private partnership and released two reports that demonstrate institutional grants are an effective and efficient way to encourage sustainable, long-term change on campus.”

NAFSA said it has been joined by a growing number of organisations in supporting the legislation, many of them highly influential in the education sector such as the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, American Council on Education, American Councils for International Education, Association of American Universities, Institute of International Education and National Education Association.