Despite opinion polls that indicate more than three-quarters of Americans believe it is important for children to learn other languages, study abroad, and attend a college where they can interact with international students, there is growing concern about Americans’ lack of preparedness in engaging and communicating with the world today, particularly when only less than 2 percent of U.S. college undergraduates study abroad each year.
“The United States needs to vastly and rapidly increase the number and diversity of its students studying abroad. The Simon Act would help do exactly that,” said APLU President Peter McPherson, who served as Chair of the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Commission. “Study abroad experience is indispensable in today’s global economy. And crucially, the Simon bill would increase the number of students studying in non-traditional countries, especially in the developing world. We thank Senators Durbin and Wicker for their work crafting bipartisan legislation that would significantly strengthen America’s economic and strategic standing in the world through more skilled, globally fluent college graduates.”
“This legislation is mission-critical to America’s efforts to secure its economic future and launch a new era in our country’s global engagement,” said NAFSA: Association of International Educators Executive Director and CEO Marlene M. Johnson. “To become more globally competitive and to build partnerships around the world, we urgently need Americans with a much deeper understanding of and ability to communicate with the world beyond our shores.
Cross-cultural competency and global experience are widely recognized as essential skills in today’s job market and the keys to innovation in the global economy. We need to invest wisely in our colleges and universities, and therefore our students, to meet these national needs. We applaud Senators Durbin and Wicker for their strong leadership and urge Congress to act quickly to advance this very important and visionary bill.”
The concept of the legislation is based on the recommendations put forth by the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program and the vision of the late distinguished Senator Paul Simon whose fundamental belief was that a global experience should be part of every student’s education and that Americans must know more about the diverse world in which we live.
The Simon Act stresses the critical importance of preparing America’s college students with the foreign language skills and cross-cultural competencies necessary to be prepared for the global economy. It sets out the goal that in 10 years, one million American undergraduate students, fully representative of the college demographic, will study abroad annually on quality programs in locations across the globe, particularly in the developing world.
Under this cost-effective model, higher education institutions could apply for competitive grants, individually or in consortium, to help them institute programs that would expand access for study abroad across the country. A report NAFSA recently released, “Moving the Needle: Leveraging Innovation for Institutional Change in Study Abroad,” found that even the act of applying for a leveraging grant encouraged colleges and universities to make a more long-term, sustainable investment in study abroad.
The Simon Act would encourage higher education institutions to address the on-campus factors that most heavily impact study abroad participation – curriculum, faculty involvement, institutional leadership, and programming – by making a commitment to institutional reform a prerequisite for access to federal funds. The legislation would create a national program within the Department of Education to establish study abroad as the norm, not the exception, for undergraduate students. By leveraging institutional reform, the bill aims to democratize study abroad in the United States and to make it an integral part of the 21st-century education of American college students.
Legislation to establish this program has been introduced in two previous Congresses. The bill was passed twice by the House and introduced in the Senate by Senator Richard Durbin (D – Ill.) and it has enjoyed strong bipartisan support.
APLU and NAFSA are joined by a growing number of organizations that support the Simon legislation, including Partners of the Americas, the American Association of Community Colleges, the Association of American Universities, the American Council on Education, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, and the Forum on Education Abroad.