Investing in the Global Education of American Students

February 26, 2009

By Janice Mulholland

Yesterday, Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) introduced legislation in the Senate that will make an investment in the global education of our students by creating an innovative program to dramatically expand opportunities for American students from all backgrounds to participate in quality educational experiences abroad - the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act (S.473). The introduction of the bill came the day after President Barack Obama spoke before Congress, where he highlighted education as one of three pillars important to the long-term stability of our economy, and raised a concern that "our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for."

The legislation was inspired by the late Senator Paul Simon (D – Ill.), who urged Congress to take action in an area he believed was crucial to the future of the United States: to ensure that the next generation of Americans is prepared with global knowledge and skills. It is nearly identical to legislation that came within one step of passage in the 110th Congress.

"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 Senator 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."

Senator Wicker commented, “It is important that our country prepare our young people for the challenges of competing in an increasingly globalized marketplace. 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.”

The legislation sets out the goal that in 10 years’ time, 1 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.

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