Washington — After months of inertia, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee today passed the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act, which would expand nearly fivefold the number of college students who participate in overseas education.
The House of Representatives approved the bill last June. It was introduced by Rep. Tom Lantos, a Democrat of California, who died on Monday. The Foreign Relations Committee passed the House’s version of the bill.
The legislation would create a foundation whose goal would be to send one million American students abroad each year within the next 10 years. Only 224,000 students studied abroad during the 2005 academic year, the latest for which figures are available.
The bill would authorize Congress to appropriate $80-million annually for the foundation, which would distribute the money largely in the form of grants to students through universities and other study-abroad providers.
One of the bill’s goals is to bring more diversity to study abroad, both in terms of where students travel and who goes overseas. It seeks to raise the number of community-college, low-income, and minority students who study abroad, and increase the number of students who go to developing countries.
The bill has received the backing of international-education groups as well as an advisory panel convened by the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security. The panel was charged with helping the departments maintain secure borders while ensuring that the country remains open to international visitors.
The bill, which has strong bipartisan support in the Senate, must now be voted on by the full Senate. —Beth McMurtrie