Leaders hope the proposed legislation will increase the ratio of US college graduates who have joined study abroad programs from the current 10%.
Democrat senator Dick Durbin from Illinois and Republican Roger Wicker from Mississippi introduced the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act of 2023 to the upper house, with Democrat Brad Schneider and Republican Brian Fitzpatrick introducing similar legislation to the lower house.
Durbin – who is a long-time supporter of both the Act and the country’s international education sector – says the bipartisan legislation “encourages [US] colleges and universities to expand study abroad programs to nontraditional locations for underserved students”.
Executive director and CEO of NAFSA, Fanta Aw, reiterated that study abroad experiences are “essential to the career-readiness and intercultural competency of US college graduates and by extension, our country’s workforce”.
The bill is designed to make it easier for a wider and more diverse community of students to benefit from study abroad experiences, organisers say.
Unlike the 2022 iteration, which was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in July last year, the new bill provides priority to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Minority Serving Institutions, institutions that qualify for the Strengthening Institutions Program and study abroad programs with a world language learning component, NAFSA noted.
“For too long, minority, first-generation, community college students and students with disabilities have faced barriers to accessing these opportunities,” Aw continued.
It could be especially important given the warnings from stakeholders after the US Supreme Court ruled affirmative action and race-conscious admissions programs as unconstitutional at the end of June.
Stakeholders said that the decision could see numbers of Black and Latino students on selective campuses “significantly drop”, the very institutions that send the most students to study abroad.
“We applaud the bill’s champions for their commitment to ensuring that all students at all types of institutions have access to study abroad programs, in a wide range of countries,” Aw added.
Like the last bill, grant funds will be able to be used to offset individual student costs related to study abroad, which has been a significant barrier to participation.
“We urge Congress to advance this critical legislation without delay”
The Act has been introduced in both the House and Senate in past sessions of Congress and has been passed by the House twice.
NAFSA is one of around 50 other associations “applauding the bill’s original cosponsors for their continued leadership on this issue”.
The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities is one of those organisations, with president, Mark Becker, noting that “international experience is essential for workers in today’s global economy”.
“We urge Congress to advance this critical legislation without delay,” he said.