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Legislation Introduced To Facilitate Study Abroad

By CityTownInfo.com Staff

February 26, 2009

Legislation was reintroduced to Congress yesterday that would expand the number of American undergraduate students studying overseas to 1 million within 10 years.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Sens. Richard Durban (D-Ill.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) sponsored the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act, which would create an independent government entity and authorize $80 million in grants to students, colleges and nongovernmental institutions providing opportunities for studying abroad. The legislation unanimously passed the House of Representatives in 2007 but failed to advance to a floor vote in the Senate.

The National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) [from an article originally located at http://www.nasulgc.org/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=1167&srcid=183] notes that the Simon Study Abroad Act is intended to expand opportunities for studying abroad among students currently underrepresented, such as low-income students and those enrolled in community colleges. The legislation also seeks to increase the number of undergraduates studying overseas in non-traditional locations, such as in developing countries.

Currently, only 1 percent of undergraduate students study abroad, of which two-thirds study in Western Europe.

"It is important that our country prepare our young people for the challenges of competing in an increasingly globalized marketplace," said Wicker. "America will be served well by taking steps to ensure our students-the future leaders of our nation-have a higher level of foreign language proficiency and international and cultural knowledge. The passage of this legislation would help us meet that important goal."

Supporters of the bill hope that it will pass easily this time because President Barack Obama, who previously co-sponsored the legislation, has advocated strong international engagement. Moreover, the bill directly addresses a problem Obama noted in his speech to the nation this week; namely, that "our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for."

But others are concerned that the bill will be overlooked among all the urgent legislation facing Congress as a result of the economic downturn.

College officials agree that studying abroad can be a transformational experience. At the University of Wisconsin in Platteville this week, the college sponsored an international fair highlighting exchange programs in Spain, England, Italy, Japan, Fiji, China, and Australia.

"Studying abroad has been the best decision I have made within my college career," remarked AJ Dexheimer, a UW student, who was quoted in the college's student publication, the Exponent. He noted that he learned more about himself studying in Fiji than he ever believed he could by staying in Wisconsin.

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