Bill aims to help fund study abroad

By Andy Kwalwaser

An $80 million study abroad initiative was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week and is seeking to be brought before the Senate.

The bill offers financial aid to students and universities involved with study abroad programs, and it would establish a foundation to coordinate programs and payouts.

“Everyone in the study abroad community is talking about this,” said Erika Ryser, associate director of Study Abroad at the University. “It’s the first time the federal government has taken a stand on saying study abroad is a priority.”

Ryser said the University is interested in the bill and is trying to determine the exact financial aid it would offer students.

“(The bill) will make it that much easier for students who have trouble getting involved now,” Ryser said. “If we can lessen the amount we have to charge students, it’s like an indirect scholarship.”

The Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act, named after the late Illinois senator, also sets a goal of sending one million students abroad each year, within the next 10 years. Nationally, around 220,000 students study abroad every year, according to a report by the Institute of International Education.

“It is an ambitious goal, but feasible,” said Kerry Bolognese, vice president for international programs at the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

Bolognese said 75 percent of the study abroad initiative’s grants are anticipated to go to institutions on a competitive basis.

“Getting institutions in the game is the way you get to a million students,” Bolognese said.

The act would encourage more students to visit “nontraditional” countries in the developing world.

“After Sept. 11, (Simon) had talked about creating more understanding between university students and non-Western locations,” said Christina Mulka, press secretary for Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the bill’s sponsor.

More than 40 percent of American students who studied abroad last year went to England, Italy, Spain or France, according to a report by the Institute of International Education.Last year, those countries were also the top study abroad destinations for University students. Ryser said the trend is slowly changing, with more University students visiting countries such as China and Brazil.

“There’s a little movement toward nontraditional destinations,” Ryser said, adding that more students visit non-Western countries with faculty on shorter trips over the summer and winter.

The House of Representatives supported a bill similar to the act last year, but Mulka said if the act is adopted, the final appropriations might still be less than the $80 million proposal.

Durbin pushed for the bill’s passage last December. That motion failed, but Mulka said Durbin expects to present the bill again soon.

“We are looking to see this legislation brought up in the Senate by various means,” she said.