Sens. Wicker and Durbin Introduce Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act

Legislation Encourages International Learning Opportunities for Low-Income and Community College Students

February 25, 2009

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Roger Wicker R-Miss., and Dick Durbin D-Ill., today introduced legislation to establish a study abroad program for undergraduate students that would help build global awareness and international understanding.  Inspired by the work and vision of the late Senator Paul Simon, the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act creates a program that encourages non-traditional students -- such as low-income students and those who attend community college -- to spend part of their undergraduate careers studying abroad, especially in less traditional locations.  The bipartisan legislation was cosponsored by Senator Thad Cochran R-Miss. 
“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.”

“Senator Paul Simon had a vision -- to strengthen the role of the U.S. as a world leader by investing in the education of our young people,” said Durbin.  “The international study abroad program we are proposing will instill in the next generation of Americans a deeper understanding of the cultures and histories of other nations. This, in turn, will enhance the United States’ capacity to lead in the 21st Century.  Last year the House of Representatives unanimously approved this bill.  It is now time for the full Congress to make international education a national priority.”

Over the next 50 years, the majority of the world’s population growth will occur outside of the United States and Europe.  Yet, only one percent of undergraduate students study abroad and two-thirds of that small percentage study in Western Europe.  The goal of the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act is to make study abroad in high-quality programs in diverse locations around the world the routine, rather than the exception, for American college students.   The changes implemented through the program will allow the U.S. to sustain a steady growth in the number of students who experience other countries as part of their undergraduate education.

“We applaud Senators Durbin and Wicker for their strong leadership in introducing this very important and visionary bill,” said Marlene Johnson, Executive Director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators.  “They understand that the global education of our college students is absolutely essential to strengthening America’s position as a responsible leader on the world stage and ensuring its competitiveness in the global economy. Now more than ever, we need to invest wisely to meet these national needs. We urge Congress to act quickly to advance the Simon Act.”

“One million students studying abroad will powerfully and positively transform our country,” said Peter McPherson, president of NASULGC, A Public University Association.  “Strong study abroad programs are important to the education of our students as well as our economic competitiveness, future diplomacy and security. We thank Senators Durbin and Wicker for their foresight and leadership in introducing this legislation and we look forward once again to strong bipartisan support and swift Congressional action.”

The Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act aims to make study abroad in high-quality programs in diverse locations around the world the routine, rather than the exception, for American college students.   Additionally, the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act sets three main goals:

  • To help at least 1 million undergraduates study abroad annually within 10 years  
  • To expand study abroad opportunities for students who are currently underrepresented 
  • To increase the number of students that study abroad in non-traditional destinations

The legislation creates an independent government entity, the Senator Paul Simon Foundation, to administer the program.  Eighty million dollars is authorized for grants to individual students, colleges and universities and nongovernmental institutions that provide study abroad opportunities.  The Senator Paul Simon Foundation will be allowed to leverage additional funds through support from the private sector. 

Durbin has introduced this legislation in both the 109th and 110th Congress.  Originally introduced as the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Act, the legislation is based on the recommendations of the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program – of which Durbin was a member.  The Commission was established in the 2004 budget to explore the opportunities for and make recommendations on expanding the opportunity for college students to study abroad, with special emphasis on studying in developing nations.  In addition, the 9/11 Commission Report recommended that the United States should increase support for scholarship and exchange programs. 

The bipartisan group of cosponsors of today’s legislation include: Senators Akaka, D-HI., Baucus, D-Mont., Bingaman, D-N.M., Bond, R-Mo., Cardin, D-Md., Cochran, R-Miss, Kennedy, D-Mass., Lieberman, ID-Conn., Lincoln, D-Ark., Murray, D-Wash., Reed, D-R.I., Roberts, R-Kan., Sanders, I-Vt, Schumer, D-N.Y., and Whitehouse, D-R.I.