Monday, August 1, 2016

The Fulbright Program at 70

Molly Bettie "The Fulbright Program at 70,", August 1, 2016; see also (1) (2).

image from

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Fulbright Act, the modest little amendment to the 1944 Surplus War Property Act that created America's oldest, largest and best-known educational and cultural exchange program.

The size & scope of the program has grown exponentially. In the first two years after the legislation was passed, exchange agreements were made with only nine countries. This wasn't for other countries' lack of interest in exchanges--the agreements were complicated to negotiate and could only be enacted in countries which held surplus World War II property, the only funding source available for these earliest exchanges. Today, the program is active in more than 160 countries around the world, and is funded by a combination (varying country by country) of U.S. congressional appropriations, domestic private donations, foreign government appropriations and foreign private donations. Participation figures have increased significantly, as well. The number of Fulbright grants went from just 84 in its first year to 4,182 by 1953, a nearly fifty-fold increase. Today, approximately 8,000 grants are awarded each year.

The context in which these exchanges operate has changed dramatically over the past seventy years. International students are no longer a rarity on the world's campuses. American news, media & consumer products are available nearly everywhere U.S. grantees go. When international students decide to go to the U.S., they have pre-formed ideas about their destination from American pop culture (to a much greater extent than they did in the 1940s and '50s). Among the many other effects of globalization, it has greatly influenced the educational exchange experience.

This 70th anniversary highlights the need for the history of the Fulbright Program to be updated. Today, I've launched a survey of Fulbright Program administrators around the world, asking for their thoughts on the purpose and impact of the exchange program. Their responses will contribute to my examination of the current state of the program in my forthcoming book. I'm aiming to submit my revisions back to my publisher by the end of the year, so expect further progress updates here on the blog.

For any Fulbright Program administrators, past or present, who are interested in contributing their thoughts, here is a link to the brief survey:

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