Study-abroad bill makes sense

The State Senate subsidy bill is an important, though slightly imperfect, effort.

Minnesota Sen. Lawrence Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, recently introduced a bill to fund study abroad for Minnesota students. The bill is primarily intended to support foreign language study. Accordingly, funding is limited to travel in countries where English is not the official language or countries defined as developing nations. With a burgeoning immigrant population and increasingly global marketplace, Pogemiller’s proposal is an important, if imperfect, addition to higher education and the Minnesota community.

Minnesota routinely ranks among the top 20 states that host foreign students – 37 percent, or 3,351, of international students in Minnesota attended the University in 2002-03. In addition, the University is ranked 13th among research institutions that host studies abroad, according to the Open Doors study from the Institute of International Education. The effects of such exchanges are difficult to measure but have important potential impacts, including facilitation of international trade relationships, increased language proficiency and increased global visibility for the University.

The University would be a prime beneficiary of the program, which is designed to disperse up to $10,000 per six months to one year of study. The funds will go to students with demonstrated financial need and will be dispersed to institutions according to how many foreign students are enrolled. These requirements will help provide equal opportunity and promote diversity.

Unfortunately, the bill includes an unusual clause: “Grants may be awarded only for study-abroad destinations that are directly related to the country of citizenship of a foreign student enrolled at the institution.” So a student might not be able to receive money to go to Uganda if there is no student at his or her school from Uganda. The loophole might be an attempt to promote diversity, but it unfairly penalizes small schools and students with unique interests. Students have little, if any, influence on international recruitment efforts.

The bill reflects a positive effort from Pogemiller to both diversify local higher education and improve the student experience. Double-digit tuition increases must not stand in the way of study abroad – an expensive but invaluable experience.