A brief History

A brief History

In September 1945, the freshman senator from Arkansas, J. William Fulbright, introduced a bill in the U.S. Congress that called for the use of proceeds from the sales of surplus war property to fund the "promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture and science." One year later, President Harry S. Truman signed the Fulbright Act into law.

The program that came to bear his name has proven to be the most valuable investment in international cooperation. The culture shock Senator J. William Fulbright experienced as a 21-year old Rhodes Scholar in England convinced him that the way to achieve peace in the world was for people of all countries to get to know and respect each other's traditions, cultures, and values. The idea was simple: to create a program, with the whole world as its stage, that would simultaneously encourage students from as many countries as possible to study in the United States while persuading young Americans to live in, and come to know and understand, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Western Hemisphere, and the Pacific. The program was originally financed by the sale of US war surplus property, later also by US held foreign currencies from the sale of grain abroad, and by funds appropriated by Congress. Today the primary source of funding for the Fulbright Program is an annual appropriation by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). Participating governments and host institutions, corporations and foundations in foreign countries and in the United States also provide monetary and in-kind support.

The binational approach is the hallmark that distinguishes this academic exchange program from most others, either public or private. The final legislative underpinnings of academic exchange came with the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961. Also known as the Fulbright-Hays Act 1961 (cosponsored by Congressman Wayne Hays of Ohio), it endorsed the cooperative approach of the Fulbright Program, enlarged its scope and extended it geographically.

"Of all the examples in recent history of beating swords into plowshares, of having some benefit come to humanity out of the destruction of war, I think that this program in its results will be among the most preeminent" President John F. Kennedy in remarks at the ceremonies marking the fifteenth anniversary of the Fulbright Program, August 1, 1961.

Today, the Fulbright exchange program has matured into an international success story. From a modest program that brought 35 students and a single professor to the United States in 1948 and sent 65 Americans abroad, the Fulbright has grown into the premier international educational exchange program in the world. More than 360,000 "Fulbrighters" have participated in the Program since its inception. Fulbright alumni serve in leadership positions in government, academia, business, the arts, science, journalism and other professional fields.

A Tradition of Excellence - Quick Facts about the Fulbright Global Program:

  • Within the global Fulbright Program 30 Fulbright alumni have served as head of state or government
  • 11 Fulbright alumni have been elected to US Congress
  • 16 Fulbright alumni have received US Presidential Medals of Freedom
  • 29 Fulbright alumni have receive McArthur Foundation Awards'
  • 53 Fulbright alumni from 13 countries have received the Nobel Prize
  • 85 Fulbright alumni have received Pulitzer Prizes

What is the Fulbright Program – watch the 3 minute film


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