Thursday, June 29, 2017

Student exchange programs boost diplomacy, security: View

Robert Fenstermacher and Bradley Smith,

uncaptioned image from article

The recent budget sent to Congress by President Trump calls for a steep 32 percent funding cut to the State Department and a drastic 55 percent cut to its Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. This would decimate important international exchange programs that promote diplomacy, enhance U.S. security and support economic growth.
This would be a mistake.
We urge U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-Harrison, the ranking member on the House Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing these programs, and her colleagues to reject these drastic cuts and to remain committed to these proven, cost-effective programs.
For more than 50 years, there has been broad bipartisan consensus of international educational exchange.
The State Department annually provides opportunities for tens of thousands of educators, athletes, students, youth and emerging leaders from the U.S. and more than 160 countries to gain international experience through academic, cultural, sports and professional exchanges. These programs not only enrich the lives and enhance the skills of those who participate, they also strengthen the United States in numerous ways.
Speaking in 1983 at a meeting of the President's Council for International Youth Exchange, President Ronald Reagan said: “The world will be all right if we all start talking to each other instead of about each other ... we must trust our system and our values enough to know that young people from other countries, if they have the chance to visit us and live among us, will come to understand the American experience.”
Evaluations of exchange programs consistently confirm that international exchange participants return to their home countries with a better impression and understanding of the United States and its people. One study of exchange students from Muslim-majority countries found that 97 percent of them said their time in the U.S. gave them a deep and more favorable view of American people and culture. This is why President George W. Bush expanded exchange programs to promote greater understanding between the U.S. and Muslim-majority countries after the tragic events of 9/11. Today these people-to-people exchanges remain just as vital to changing minds and perspectives.
While funding for diplomacy is being cut, the Trump administration has proposed a significant increase in military spending. In late February, more than 120 retired generals and admirals released a letter urging Congress to maintain funding for the State Department. In 2013, Gen. James Mattis, then commander at U.S. Central Command and now Defense Secretary, told members of Congress: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately … The more that we put into the State Department’s diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget.” If the goal of the Trump administration is to decrease government spending while enhancing national security, then funding the State Department’s public diplomacy programs is in fact the proven cost-effective strategy to achieve that objective.
The Trump administration wants to support job creation and skills development of American workers and spur economic growth. Exchange programs are once again a cost-effective means to fulfilling those goals. The majority of State Department funding is expended on American participants or on international participants in the U.S., contributing to economic growth here in our country.

Supporting exchanges for Americans helps prepare them for successful careers in a global economy. Numerous studies indicate that more than 70 percent of U.S. employers value international experience when hiring, so exchanges increase job prospects. Additionally, the skills and relationships gained by exchange participants are critical to American companies, which need employees who understand and can engage with international partners to expand a company’s business and markets. As U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Greenwich, serves as co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional International Exchange and Study Caucus. He said exchange programs “provide an unequaled understanding of world cultures — one that can translate into the success of American business, growth of the U.S. economy, and increased global and national security.”
The participants who come to the United States are also a boon for the U.S. economy. It is estimated that international students and exchange participants contribute annually more than $30 billion to the U.S. economy purchasing goods and services from American businesses and educational institutions.
The international educational exchange programs supported by the U.S. State Department play a critical role in making and keeping America great both here at home and abroad. For a small investment, the U.S. builds positive relationships with people around the world, enhances national security, makes Americans safer, and strengthens the U.S. economy. These are goals that all Americans and politicians, regardless of party, should be able to support.
Bradley Smith is the President & CEO of PAX Laurasian Exchange, a high school exchange organization based in Port Chester. Robert Fenstermacher, a White Plains resident, serves on the Board of PAX Laurasian Exchange and is former President & CEO of Cultural Vistas exchange organization.

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