Education abroad programs across the country may soon receive an additional $80 million in government funds beginning next year, pending a decision from Congress later this week.

If approved, the proposed Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act of 2007 will dole out funds annually to individuals, institutions of higher education and nongovernmental institutions involved in overseas education programs.

Bruce Hanna, director of communications for the UC-wide Education Abroad Program office, said the bill’s passage – and the possibility of financial assistance for EAP – would allow much-needed improvements for the UC study abroad system.

“If the UC were able to get some of this money, we’d be able to provide better programs, more effective ways of processing applications and educating students about studying abroad,” Hanna said.

However, he also cautioned that while he believes the bill is a good idea, the language used in the bill is vague on certain aspects.

“There are no details about what people need to do to get money,” Hanna said. “As of now, it’s very hard to discern the impact of the bill on the UC system.”

According to Hanna, the proposal was a direct result of the 2006 Lincoln Commission report, which Congress authorized to study the benefits of studying abroad.

“The commission concluded that it was advisable for U.S. citizens to become more aware of world cultures and languages [through studying in foreign countries],” Hanna said. “This is a huge additional source of money directed specifically toward EAP.”

David Diamond, president and co-founder of Global Student Experience, a company that works with universities to assist students in traveling abroad, said the bill aims to expand educational opportunities for students who would like the experience of other cultures.

“The bill’s goals include increasing the diversity of students traveling, the destinations chosen to study abroad in and the creation of more funding opportunities,” Diamond said. “Ten years from its enactment, the bill also wants to increase the number of U.S. students traveling abroad to one million per year.”

Students who are not on financial aid but still cannot afford the extra cost of studying abroad will benefit most from funds of this kind, Hanna said, because the overseas study programs will have more grants available.

UCSB EAP regional advisor Vivian Thomas said students on financial aid oftentimes find it easier to go abroad compared to students not receiving financial aid.

“We give the financial aid office an estimate of how much it will cost for a student to study abroad and they adjust their package accordingly,” Thomas said. “Some countries cost more than others.”

In the last few years, UC’s EAP has accounted for close to 10 percent of all U.S. college students traveling abroad for one year or more, Hanna said. Additionally, he said this could have an effect on the amount of money the UC would receive from this bill.

“The strength of the UC EAP may seem attractive in getting funds,” Hanna said. “Or, because of its success, money may be allocated to more needy programs elsewhere.”