In his opinion article “Study abroad is necessity, not luxury” in today’s USA Today, travel writer and public television host Rick Steves makes a strong case for why study abroad is a critical investment for the United States.

His opening lines:

Even in challenging economic times, making sure that study abroad is part of our college students' education is a vital investment. If we want a new generation of leaders and innovators who can be effective in an ever more globalized world, sending our students overseas is not a luxury. It's a necessity.

A poll commissioned by NAFSA backs up this notion: more than half of Americans recognize that study abroad is a vital component of an education that prepares them for success in the global workplace, and nearly three-fourths believe that America's higher education institutions must do a better job of teaching students about the world if they are to be prepared to compete in the global economy.

But the numbers just aren’t adding up. Steves points out that, “Four out of every five first-year students aspire to study overseas. But at any given time, only about 2% of students are able to.” He specifically mentions the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Act as a way to increase access to study abroad.

What are your thoughts? How can we keep this conversation going in tough economic and political times? Share your comments below.