U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), along with U.S. Representatives Cheri Bustos (D-IL-17) and John Katko (R-NY-24) who recently introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, today introduced the bipartisan Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act, which renames a competitive grant program run by the Department of State to the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program. This grant helps institutions of higher education expand study abroad opportunities to nontraditional locations for underrepresented American college students. Study abroad is an important component of a well-rounded post-secondary education, giving students the opportunity to engage with other cultures, enhance foreign language skills, and expand international knowledge through firsthand experience. Named after the late Illinois U.S. Senator Paul Simon -- who preached the value of international education as vital to the United States' economic and national security -- this bill aims to implement recommendations put forward by the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program to improve collegiate study abroad programs.
"Senator Paul Simon always knew the value of understanding how the world works and how we are all interconnected," Durbin said. "This legislation builds on Senator Simon's vision by creating more opportunities for American students of all backgrounds to see and experience the world. By giving the next generation of students the chance to study abroad after COVID-19 shut the world down, they will be better prepared to lead successful lives and expand their worldview."
"Study abroad is a valuable experience for many American college students who hope to become our country's future leaders," Wicker said. "I appreciate this effort to expand access to study abroad for thousands of undergraduates who would not otherwise have the opportunity."
"During his time in office, Senator Paul Simon was an outspoken leader in U.S. foreign affairs and a tireless advocate for the people of Illinois. He was also an important person in my life and an inspiration for my career in public service," said Bustos. "I can think of no better way to honor his legacy than to establish a study abroad grant program in his name, giving our future leaders opportunities to gain global knowledge. I'm honored to partner with Congressman Katko and Senators Durbin and Wicker to uphold his tradition of working across the aisle and creating new opportunities for generations to come."
Joining Durbin and Wicker in introducing the legislation in the Senate are U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Angus King (I-ME), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Alex Padilla (D-CA).
"By increasing and diversifying study abroad participation through a proven program, the Simon Bill ensures a greater number and cross-section of the U.S. population will graduate prepared to enter tomorrow's workforce, just as Senator Simon envisioned," said Dr. Esther D. Brimmer, Executive Director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators. "NAFSA applauds the bill's original cosponsors for their continued leadership on this issue and we stand ready as an eager partner in securing the necessary support and funding to implement this program."
"International experience is essential for workers in today's global economy," said Association of Public and Land-grant Universities President Mark Becker. "We're grateful to Senators Durbin and Wicker as well as Representatives Bustos and Katko for their steadfast leadership spearheading the bipartisan Simon Act to boost study abroad participation and bolster U.S. global competitiveness. We urge Congress to advance this critical legislation without delay."
"In 2003, my father spent most of his final year on this earth lobbying his former colleagues on Capitol Hill to embrace the idea of making study abroad the norm, and not the exception, in this country. He believed that by giving more young Americans the opportunity to experience other cultures, first-hand, that we might build bridges of understanding so needed in the wake of September 11, 2001," said Martin H. Simon, son of the late Senator Simon. "Two of my father's protégés, Senator Dick Durbin and Representative Cheri Bustos, have worked hard to keep Dad's vision for this program alive, and I thank them and their Republican colleagues for introducing this bipartisan legislation."
Currently, only ten percent of American college students participate in study abroad before they graduate, and participation isn't representative of the broad diversity seen on today's college campuses.
The goals of the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program are to:
Increase the overall number of undergraduate students studying abroad annually to one million students within 10 years;
Increase the number of minority students, first generation college students, community college students, and students with disabilities studying abroad, so the demographics of study abroad participation reflect the demographics of the undergraduate population; and
Increase the number of students who study abroad in nontraditional destinations, with an emphasis on economically developing countries, while maintaining health and safety guidelines and procedures informed by Department of State travel advisories and other appropriate Federal agencies and resources.