Bill envisions broadening students’ global opportunities

A bill envisioning the expansion of study-abroad participants and programs was blocked in the Senate by a vote of 52-40 in July. With limited time left in this year’s legislative session, the bill will unlikely be reconsidered and will await further action early next year.

The House of Representatives unanimously passed the bill, the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act, in July 2007. Since then, the bill was rolled into a package of other foreign policy bills in an effort to increase its support in the Senate.

“It’s difficult to know right now if the bill has the chance to be reconsidered,” said Ursula Oaks, director of media relations at NAFSA: Association of International Educators. “We fully intend to have the bill reintroduced next year.”

Both Washington state senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray voted in favor of the bill in July.

Within 10 years, the bill proposes to have one million students in study abroad programs – close to five times the current rate. It places priority on diversifying host nations and study abroad students, including low-income and minorities, while also encouraging non-humanities majors to join study abroad programs.

The legislation points to the importance of global education in an increasingly global society where economic and political leadership require experience outside the United States.

“If you look at the population centers of the world, they’re not in France or Germany,” said Cameron Frisch, assistant director of IPE (International Programs & Exchanges). “They’re in China and India where the economy is developing.”

According to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors Report of 2007, Europe hosted 58.3 percent of study-abroad students nation-wide during the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 school years. While Asia contains close to half of the world’s population, only 9.2 percent of students studying abroad traveled to Asian countries.

Despite less than favorable study abroad participation, the national study abroad trend is growing and the UW has seen exponential growth in students studying abroad. The IPE counted 2,150 students who studied abroad in the 2007-2008 school year compared to the 859 students seven years ago.

Money barriers and concerns about graduating credits lead many to shy away from studying abroad.

“I think studying abroad would be good,” said Gloria Louie, an entering freshman at the UW. “It’s just the money part that would hold me back.”

Brandon Kazen-Maddox, a junior double majoring in international studies and Spanish, took a $5,000 loan to travel to Spain in a six-month program. His experience was so inspiring that he signed up for another study abroad trip to France next year.

“The experience is so worth it,” Kazen-Maddox said. “The money comes back because when you study abroad you get this experience under your belt.”

With or without the passing of the bill, the IPE and the UW will continue supporting study abroad programs, advocating participation of non-traditional study abroad students and incorporation of study abroad into departmental curriculum.

The IPE recently introduced Global Opportunity Grants (GO! Grants) to fund financially eligible undergraduates looking to study abroad. The scholarships support efforts to bring in low-income and minority students currently being underrepresented in study-abroad programs. So far $90,000 has been disbursed since the scholarship started in January.

“Traditionally, study abroad has always been an extra or add-on,” Frisch said. “We’re trying to make it part of the degree programs.”

He said this will require more conversations with deans and chairs of departments.

“[Studying in Spain] was completely life-changing,” Kazen-Maddox said. “Every day was an adventure and a vocabulary lesson.”

Reach reporter Emily Lee at news@dailyuw.com.

Percentage of U.S. Study Abroad Students by Race/Ethnicity (U.S. post-secondary enrollment 2005-2006; U.S. students abroad 2005-2006)

African American 12.7% 3.5%

Asian American 6.5% 6.3%

Caucasian 65.7% 83%

Hispanic/Latino American 10.8% 5.4%

Multiracial Not Available 1.2%

Native American 1.0% 0.6%

Nonresident Alien 3.3% Not Available

Source: NAFSA Web site

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