Proposal Seeks to Improve America's Image Abroad: Legislation Would Lessen Financial Barriers That Prevent Low-Income, Minority Students from Participating in Foreign Exchange Programs

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Minority-serving institutions (MSI) and members of Congress are making a final push for legislation to draw more low-income and minority students into foreign exchange programs and bring more students from developing countries to the United States.

"There is an urgent need to improve America's image abroad," says Rep. Ruben Hinojosa. D-Texas. chairman of the House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning and Competitiveness. One goal of the Uniting Students in America proposal is to increase participation in study abroad programs to at least 1 million college students per year, a four-fold increase from the current level of 223,000.

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The proposal would focus on this goal by creating a new U.S. government-sanctioned corporation that would raise private sector funds and offer competitive grants to universities, consortiums and individuals. The foundation would be named for former Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., a champion of higher education who died in 2003.

"There are a variety of reasons wily many college students don't study abroad, but lack of finances is one of the major challenges," says Dr. William DeLauder, president emeritus of Delaware State University, a historically Black institution.

Along with the potential to raise private funds, the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act would also authorize $80 million in federal funds for study abroad and international programs.

The goal is to "make study abroad a commonplace rather than exceptional part of college education for American students," a summary of the plan states. Another objective is to bring participation in study abroad programs more in line with the demographic composition of higher education. As a result, it seeks to recruit more students from community colleges, minority-serving institutions and colleges serving large numbers of low-income and first-generation students.

The legislation also seeks to expand the reach of study abroad programs so that more U.S. students would attend programs in more nontraditional destinations such as developing countries.

Open Doors data, published by the Institute of International Education, do show that some U.S. students already are studying at relatively nontraditional destinations. Study in the Middle East was up 31 percent in 2007, while Africa experienced a 19 percent gain. …