The Collective Public Policy Voice of the Exchange Community

For Immediate Release
Contact: 202-293-6141

Fate of Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs Rests with Congress

Washington, DC (May 23, 2017) – The budget released today by President Donald Trump proposes an unprecedented cut of 32 percent to the International Affairs budget, and a 55 percent cut to the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) specifically. ECA funds and oversees a wide range of critical international exchange programs which enable people-to-people diplomacy.

In March, the administration made a similar recommendation to cut the State Department budget in the so-called skinny budget, but Congressional champions, including Senators Lindsay Graham and Patrick Leahy and Representatives Hal Rogers and Nita Lowey, ensured funding for the critical work of exchange programs were sustained for another year – providing a significant increase of seven percent in the fiscal year (FY) 2017 Omnibus Bill.

“If adopted, these cuts would greatly harm our nation’s public diplomacy efforts,” said Ilir Zherka, Executive Director of the Alliance for International Exchange. “As Defense Secretary James Mattis has suggested, the way to reduce the possibility of war is to increase people-to-people diplomacy – which is at the heart of cultural and educational exchanges.

“Fortunately, Congress has consistently demonstrated a strong, bipartisan commitment to exchange programs, even as recently as last month. Gutting exchange programs isn’t a win for the taxpayer, because the investment in America’s national security is immense. Over 90 percent of ECA funding is spent in the United States or on Americans implementing these programs. Because of that investment, 1 in 3 world leaders today have been on a U.S. exchange program.

“As we continue to make the case for strong funding in fiscal year 2018, we will once again count on bipartisan congressional leaders and the thousands of exchange supporters across the country who will work to ensure that these programs are maintained.”

Background on Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs

Exchange programs enhance U.S. national security and prosperity by building productive partnerships, mutual understanding, and personal connections that help us address critical global issues including strengthening the world economy and combating terrorism. They also create a welcoming environment for over a million international students to study in the U.S. In 2015, these students added more than $32 billion dollars to our economy and supported over 400,000 U.S. jobs.

The cost of these programs is considerably less than 1 percent of the federal budget, and the return-on-investment is immense. Almost all the exchange program allocation is spent in the U.S. or on Americans. To be most effective, U.S. funding for exchange programs should be balanced and strategic by reaching a range of people from many different countries.

Last month, Congress passed (and the President signed into law) a $1 trillion spending bill to fund the government through September 30. It includes an increase of 7 percent for ECA programs. The new level of $634.1 million (from $590.9 million in FY16) is just short of the high-water mark of $635 million in FY10. This is extremely significant – especially in light of the Administration’s request for a 24 percent cut.


The Alliance for International Exchange is an association dedicated to promote the growth and impact of exchange programs. Since 1993, it serves as the collective public policy voice for now over 90 nongovernmental organizations comprising the international educational and cultural exchange community in the United States.  The Alliance expands awareness of the impact of people-to-people connections.