Durbin, Wicker Reintroduce Legislation To Promote Study Abroad

Lawmakers say study abroad prepares U.S. college graduates to compete globally

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) today reintroduced the bipartisan, bicameral Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act, which renames a competitive grant program run by the Department of State to the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program.  The grant encourages institutions of higher education to sustainably expand study abroad opportunities to nontraditional locations for underserved American undergraduate students.  It is named after the late United States Senator Paul Simon, who encouraged Congress to prepare the next generation of Americans with the global knowledge and skills needed for success in an increasingly interconnected world.     

“Senator Paul Simon always knew the value of understanding how the world works and how we are all interconnected,” Durbin said.  “This legislation builds on Senator Simon’s vision by creating opportunities for American students of all backgrounds to see and experience the world.  By giving the next generation of students the chance to study abroad, they will be better prepared to lead successful lives and expand their worldview.”

“Study abroad is a valuable experience for many American college students who hope to become our country’s future leaders,” Wicker said. “I appreciate this effort to expand access to study abroad for thousands of undergraduates who would not otherwise have the opportunity.”

House companion legislation has been introduced by U.S. Representatives Brad Schneider (D-IL-10) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01). 

“Diverse, international experiences are incredibly valuable for today’s students who want to compete for jobs in tomorrow’s economy and lead the way in building a more prosperous, peaceful, and stable future.  Senator Paul Simon championed study abroad for American students of all backgrounds and I am proud to get to carry on his legacy with this bipartisan bill co-led by Congressman Fitzpatrick and Senators Durbin and Wicker,” Schneider said. 

“Study abroad programs are an enriching component of a well-rounded academic and cultural education.  Providing our students with the opportunity to visit, study in, and be our ambassadors to nations around the world is essential for American leadership in the 21st century,” said Fitzpatrick.  “I am proud to introduce the bipartisan Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act alongside my colleagues and ensure that over the next decade, 1 million students from every walk of life and background are able to take advantage of international education programs.” 

As China and other global competitors continue to build key relationships with developing countries, it is essential that the United States and a diverse demographic of American students have access to study abroad programs in nontraditional locations so that our nation maintains its competitive edge and students have the cultural and linguistic competency to compete.  According to UNESCO, nearly 1.1 million Chinese college students study abroad annually while only 110,000 American college students do.  Students of color, first-generation college students, community college students, and students with disabilities are underrepresented in study abroad participation.    

The goals of the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program are to:

  • Increase the number of undergraduate students studying abroad annually to one million students within 10 years;
  • Increase the number of minority students, first generation college students, community college students, and students with disabilities studying abroad by prioritizing grants for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Minority Serving Institutions, and institutions that qualify for the Department of Education’s Strengthening Institutions Program, so the demographics of study abroad participation better reflect the demographics of the undergraduate population; and 
  • Increase the number of students who study abroad in nontraditional destinations, with an emphasis on economically developing countries, while maintaining health and safety guidelines and procedures informed by Department of State travel advisories and other appropriate Federal agencies and resources. 

In 2004, Congress authorized the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program to provide recommendations to Congress and the President on how to expand opportunities for American undergraduate students to study abroad with a special emphasis on study abroad in economically disadvantaged countries.  This bipartisan bill seeks to implement those recommendations.

Durbin first introduced this legislation in 2006 as the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Act based on the recommendations of the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program – of which Durbin was a member. 

This bill is supported by the following organizations: NAFSA: Association of International Educators, Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, Academic Programs International (API), American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers, American Association of Community Colleges, American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), American Association of Teachers of French, American Council on Education, American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), American Councils for International Education, Association of American Universities, Association of Marshall Scholars, California Language Teachers' Association (CLTA), CETRA Language Solutions, Computer-Assisted Language Instruction Consortium (CALICO), DECTFL (Delaware Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages), Diversity Abroad, Fluency Consulting LLC, Foreign Language Association of Georgia, Foreign Language Association of Virginia (FLAVA), Fund for Education Abroad, Global Virginia, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, Illinois Association for College Admission Counseling, IES Abroad, Institute of International Education, International Association for Language Learning Technology, International Educators of Illinois, Joint National Committee for Languages, Kentucky World Language Association, Language Magazine, Linguistic Society of America, Michigan World Language Association (MIWLA), National Association for College Admission Counseling, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, National Council for Languages and International Studies, National Education Association, New Mexico Organization of Language Educators (NMOLE), Partners of the Americas, Pennsylvania Council for International Education, Southern Conference on Language Teaching (SCOLT), Southwest Conference on Language Teaching, TESOL International Association, The Alliance for International Exchange, The Forum on Education Abroad, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, United Negro College Fund, University of Kentucky, Vermont Foreign Language Association, West Virginia Foreign Language Teachers Association, and Wisconsin Association for Language Teachers.

“Study abroad experiences are essential to the career-readiness and intercultural competency of U.S. college graduates and by extension, our country’s workforce. For too long, minority, first-generation, community college students, and students with disabilities have faced barriers to accessing these opportunities,” said Fanta Aw, PhD, Executive Director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators.  “We applaud the bill’s Senate champions for their commitment to ensuring that all students at all types of institutions have access to study abroad programs, in a wide range of countries.”

“In 2003, my father spent most of his final year on this earth lobbying his former colleagues on Capitol Hill to embrace the idea of making study abroad the norm, and not the exception, in this country,” said Martin H. Simon, Senator Simon’s son.  “One of my father’s protégés, Sen. Dick Durbin, has worked hard to keep Dad’s vision for this program alive and I thank him and Sen. Wicker for re-introducing this bipartisan legislation.”

“International experience is essential for workers in today’s economy,” Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) President Mark Becker said. “We’re grateful to Senators Durbin and Wicker as well as Representatives Schneider and Fitzpatrick for their leadership spearheading the bipartisan Simon Act to boost study abroad participation and bolster U.S. global competitiveness. Now is the time to invest in international educational experiences. We urge Congress to advance this critical legislation without delay.” 

Bill text is available here.