Budget Presents Mixed Picture for International Education

February 13, 2012

President Obama's budget for the 2013 fiscal year is a mixed bag for international educators.

While requesting an almost 9-percent increase for the Fulbright Program, the U.S. State Department's flagship academic-exchange opportunity, many other international programs either face cuts or only a slight rise in support.

Perhaps of greatest concern is the Title VI program, which is run by the U.S. Department of Education. Title VI supports more than 150 academic centers dedicated to the study of various regions of the world, languages like Bengali and Farsi that are rarely taught at universities, and other international subjects.

The Obama administration is seeking a small increase of $1.7-million for the program, primarily to help disadvantaged students develop "global competencies." However, the administration did not seek to restore the large cut that Title VI received in 2011, when it was reduced by some 40 percent.

While the decrease in support has been devastating for universities that operate the centers, the Education Department deserves some credit for keeping the program alive, says Becky Timmons, assistant vice president for government relations for the American Council on Education.

"Would we like it to be better? You bet," she says. "But given the budget environment we're in, level funding is a statement of support."

Ms. Timmons says the council hopes to rally support for the centers in part by emphasizing the role they play in bolstering national security. For example, Title VI-financed Middle-East studies centers at Ohio State University and the University of Texas at Austin recently provided a three-day training program on the region's culture and history to members of the National Guard about to deploy to Afghanistan, Ms. Timmons says.

"It's a critical national resource," she says about the program.

In all, for 2013, Title VI would receive $68.3-million.

For the Fulbright Program, President Obama has asked for a $20.3-million increase to $250.7-million. In addition, the president is seeking $5-million to establish a Global University Innovation Fund. According to the State Department's budget request, the fund would "support a new model of multilateral university exchange and academic collaboration with key partners, emerging powers, and countries in transition on topics of shared global importance."

However, the administration has also requested a reduction in spending for a variety of international-academic programs overseen by the State Department. For example, the president has asked for a reduction in spending for the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, which provides financial assistance to undergraduates who receive Pell Grants to study abroad. Under the budget, it would receive $10-million, $3-million less than it did in 2012.

Other international-education programs face difficult fiscal futures under the budget proposal.

Education Department programs to help build international partnerships between American universities and their peers in countries such as Russia and Brazil would increase slightly from $2.1-million to $2.9-million. However, the programs, which are operated under the department's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, remain far below the $12.5-million they received in 2011.

The East-West Center, an institute at the University of Hawaii focused on cultural and academic exchange, would receive $10.8-million, a $5.9-million reduction. Since 2011, federal spending for the center has been cut in half.

Federal spending for the Fulbright-Hays program, an Education Department program that pays for doctoral students to study abroad, would receive $7.5-million, the same as in 2012.