Open Doors, Secure Borders: Advantages of Education Abroad for Public Policy

By Johnson, Victor C.; Mulholland, Janice | International Educator, May/June 2006 | Go to article overview

Open Doors, Secure Borders: Advantages of Education Abroad for Public Policy


Johnson, Victor C., Mulholland, Janice, International Educator


IT HAS VIRTUALLY BECOME CONVENTIONAL WISDOM SINCE SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 that the world needs to know the United States better. Public officials at the highest level have expressed concern over declining international student enrollments and have expressed the commitment of the United States to welcoming international students. Both the current and the preceding secretaries of state and homeland security have mentioned the subject frequently, and the Department of State has adopted a much publicized policy of "Secure Borders, Open Doors." With strong congressional prodding and support, the Department of State has committed itself to improving the visa process and has made considerable progress. Although the nation still has a long way to go to recapture its edge in attracting international students, the commitment is clear, and progress is being made. Once top officials translate their stated commitment into comprehensive policy, we will be well on our way toward addressing this issue.

Less attention has been paid to the flip side of this coin: The United States needs to know the world better. Rather than "Secure Borders, Open Doors," it could be called "Open Doors, Secure Borders": By opening the door to education abroad for more college students, we gain the security that comes from greater understanding of and familiarity with what's going on around us in the world. That is also part of post-September 11, 2001 conventional wisdom-and it's on public officials' minds, too. But the commitment has been less clear, and new, bigger, and better programs are not being put in place.

At the urging of the late Senator Paul Simon, Congress created the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program at the end of 2003. With NAFSAs active support, Congress and President Bush selected the commission members and, in November 2005, the commission issued a report calling for the establishment of a national study abroad program whose mission was that in 10 years' time the United States would be sending one million students abroad. NAFSA also worked with the Senate to pass a resolution declaring 2006 as the "Year of Study Abroad," recognizing the important contribution study abroad makes in shaping globally competent graduates and encouraging initiatives at all levels to promote and expand study abroad opportunities for all students.

NAFSA continues to serve as a resource to Congress on these issues and supports legislation to implement Senator Simon's vision for a Lincoln program that dramatically increases the number of U.S. students studying abroad each year with an emphasis on developing nations and underserved populations. Leadership will be required at all levels to ensure the implementation of this program. Why is this important for our country?

At 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001, America's ignorance of the world became, incontestably, a national liability. Not only did almost 3,000 individuals perish on that awful day; our nation's smug confidence that we could afford to be ignorant of the rest of the world also came to an end.

Significantly increasing the number of U.S. students who graduate from college having pursued part of their undergraduate education abroad will serve U.S. national security, foreign policy, and world leadership many important ways.

National Security

Americans all remember the desperate search for speakers of Arabic, Farsi, and Pashto that followed September 11. Nothing could more dramatically demonstrate the importance of education abroad-which is one of the major ways we produce foreign language speakers and which greatly enhances foreign language learning-to U.S. national security. But we need to raise our vision. The need is broader than foreign language learning, crucial as that is. As NAFSA and the Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange noted in Toward an International Education Policy for the United States:

We no longer have the option of getting along without the expertise that we need to understand and conduct our relations with the world. …

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