A Bill introduced in Congress with strong bipartisan support would quintuple the number of Americans studying abroad by 2017, especially in the developing world, writes Jon Marcus.
The Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act, named after a late US Senator who was outspoken on this issue, would boost the number of undergraduates who spend at least a semester in a foreign destination to 1 million a year. Last year, 205,983 Americans studied abroad.
The Bill is co-sponsored by Tom Lantos, the Democratic chair of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican and member of the committee. The Bill explicitly cites "foreign policy challenges facing the United States" and the need to expand Americans' knowledge of foreign languages and cultures as reasons for the need to expose more students to foreign study.
"Through this programme we are promoting a new generation of diplomats, intelligence analysts and international businesspeople," said Ms Ros-Lehtinen.
It would make federal grants to universities contingent on encouraging more young people to study abroad and would provide financial aid to students, especially to low and middle-income students who have not previously been able to afford foreign study.
"Today, our nation faces a deficit of cultural knowledge that is an impediment to our efforts to fight the global war on terrorism and to keep America competitive in a global economy," Mr Lantos said. "This is an incredibly important Bill that will democratise study abroad for American students in the way that the GI Bill democratised higher education."