Federally-funded vacations

New legislation would allocate federal support for inefficient study abroad programs.

A bill recently introduced in Congress would allocate federal money for study abroad programs. The Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act of 2007 aims to send one million United States college students overseas each year. This ambitious goal will be backed by a bank of $80 million in federal funding to support such programs through grants and scholarships. Although the concept of study abroad is genuine, the way these programs can be administered makes one wonder whether Congress just enabled federally supported student vacations. The intentions of study abroad programs are clear. One of the main goals of the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Learning Abroad Center is to âÄúcontinue to promote empowerment, development, understanding and responsibility in the global community.âÄù If these goals were to be carried out, there would be no problem in creating a federal pot of money for such programs. What happens much of the time, however, is that students travel to Europe to drink while taking a few easy credits. That assertion is not a uniform indictment of study abroad programs, nor is it representative of them. Study abroad courses nevertheless have the potential to be more rigorous, and study abroad programs have the potential to change the world. Moreover, in another closely related global mission-based institution, AmeriCorps watchdog Gerald Walpin was recently ousted for doing his job and reporting the rampant unnecessary spending in the organization. Federal officials could not accept the fact that an institution with good intentions was reckless. This mindset of providing budget immunity to mission-based organizations needs to be eliminated. Although AmeriCorps is its own entity, the concept of budget liability applies directly to study abroad programs as well âÄî and so do standards. Colleges and universities now have a new responsibility to spend their newly allocated federal tax dollars wisely. A more fine-tuned approach to the academic values would significantly improve the efficiency of the programs, in turn enabling education and positive global change.