Model Study Abroad Legislation: Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Act

Ensuring the Global Competency of U.S. College Graduates

Like the digital divide of a generation ago, today we face a growing "global" divide, between those who will have access to an international education and will be primed for success in our globalized world, and those who will not. The United States cannot remain globally competitive without a citizenry equipped with global skills and knowledge. Ensuring that many more American college students have access to study abroad as part of their academic preparation is vital to U.S. competitiveness and should be a national priority. 

The Value of Study Abroad

Study abroad is a learning opportunity that enables students to develop critical skills needed to compete in today's global economy, including foreign language fluency, strong problem-solving and analytical capability, a tolerance for ambiguity, and cross-cultural competence. Recent studies also show a positive correlation between students who study abroad and higher grade point averages and degree completion rates. Study abroad contributes in vital ways to preparing students for the competitive global environment into which they will graduate and should be the norm, not the exception, across U.S. higher education. Currently, however, only about one percent of all college students study abroad each year. 

The Simon Program

A model exists which would go a long way toward making a global education part of the academic preparation of every American college student. The Simon Study Abroad Program, inspired by the vision of the late Sen. Paul Simon (D – Ill.) and the recommendations of the congressionally-appointed Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program, would create a modest program of challenge grants to incentivize colleges and universities to make study abroad an integral part of higher education in order to advance three national goals:   

  1. One million U.S. college students will study abroad annually for credit
  2. Study abroad participants will be representative of the undergraduate population in terms of gender, ethnicity, income level, and field of study     
  3. A significantly greater proportion of study abroad will occur in nontraditional destinations outside Western Europe  

Higher education institutions could apply for federal grants, individually or in consortium, to help them institute programs that would move the country toward achievement of these objectives.  

Legislation to establish this program has been introduced in two previous sessions of Congress. The bill was passed twice by the House and introduced in the Senate by Sen. Dick Durbin (D – Ill.). 

NAFSA urges Congress to support this important initiative, which would make an important contribution to ensuring that American college students have the international skills and understanding necessary for success in today’s global economy.