This year’s International Education Week, November 16-20, was an extraordinary way to focus on the range of efforts and programs that allow students to have more integrated and experiential international education through creative curricular design, expansion of language learning, and increased opportunities for study abroad.
On Thursday evening, I was thrilled to join the Fund for Education Abroad to celebrate their 5th anniversary and to accept the inaugural Fritz Kaufmann Champion Award. That incredible honor provided me an opportunity to note the progress we have made and to reflect on how much there remains to do.
Fritz Kaufmann, founder of Academic Travel Abroad, acted upon his personal experiences and had a vision for the role that international education could play to help rebuild a war-devastated Europe. His lifelong devotion to advancing cross-cultural understanding through international educational travel, multicultural awareness, and language training, continues to inspire us today.
In accepting the award, I wanted to acknowledge our collective successes by recognizing a number of individuals for their significant contribution to advancing international learning for U.S. students.
First, Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public Land Grant Universities (APLU). Peter has been higher education’s leading voice for a cost-effective approach to growing and diversifying study abroad. He has recognized that it is essential to change the culture of higher education to include a more comprehensive campuswide commitment that includes an education abroad experience for all students.
As chair of the Lincoln Commission, the federal bipartisan commission that studied the issue of how we grow and diversify study abroad, Peter led the recommendation for a national, federally funded study abroad program based on a competitive grants model.
Second, Mary Anne Grant, president of International Student Exchange Programs (ISEP). Mary Anne has led ISEP for more than 30 years, and in that time, has made critical contributions to the deep, immersion learning we want for all students.
Third, Steve Vetter of Partners of the Americas. Steve’s vision for public-private partnerships to expand student mobility within the Americas is inspiring, and NAFSA is very proud to work alongside him. The 100,000 Strong in the Americas Program is based on the model proposed by the Lincoln Commission several years ago.
Fourth, our allies on Capitol Hill–the late Senator Paul Simon and the late Congressman Tom Lantos were longtime champions for a federally supported study abroad program, and Senator Dick Durbin and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, among others, continue to be champions.
Finally, I wanted to acknowledge the tremendous leadership of the Obama administration for raising the bar about the importance of study abroad, and building private and public support toward that end. From President Obama himself, for creating special initiatives for Africa, China, Latin America, among others; to the First Lady, to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobsen; and through such important initiatives such as the 100,000 Strong in the Americas to the creation of a study abroad office at the Department of State being led by LeeAnne Dunsmore.
And of course, the normalization of relations with Cuba opens up exciting new opportunities for academic engagement.
There are thousands of others of you on campuses across the country who give your time, resources, and commitment to making sure the face America presents to the world reflects the face of our student body today. We all share the goal of making study abroad possible for all of our students, regardless of financial resources or family or cultural background. So how do we get there?
Funds like these offered by the Fund for Education Abroad are important–individual scholarships are valuable to help boost awareness of the need to diversify study abroad participation and to create a sense of broader community support for all students.
It’s also true that we’ll never be able to raise enough money to pay for every student who deserves an opportunity to study abroad. So, the genius of the Lincoln Commission’s recommendation, which is being demonstrated by the 100,000 Strong in the Americas program, is providing incentives for higher education institutions to create institutional, sustainable ways for study abroad to be accessible and affordable to all students, not just those who receive individual scholarships. That must be our collective commitment in the long term.
International Education Week is a perfect time to celebrate the achievements to date and raise this issue higher, as well as commit to moving further in the months and years ahead.
We must continue to advocate for greater national emphasis on the importance of study abroad and global learning.
And we can’t rest until every student has the opportunity to benefit from the profound experiences that tie us together as humanity and connect us to our neighbors around the globe.
Thank you again for your commitment to international education.
Marlene M. Johnson is CEO and executive director of NAFSA: Association of International Educators.