We know by now that Millennials are pragmatic by nature.  They are not concerned as much about ideology as they are progress.  They would much rather cooperate with all the stakeholders in a given problem, compromise, and patch together a solution that accommodates everyone involved as much as possible.  We also know that many Millennials are frustrated by politics because they feel their issues are not seriously addressed by older politicians.

Yesterday, the Senate voted on the Advancing America’s Priorities Act, an omnibus bill consisting of some 35 different pieces of legislation packaged together by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).  Many of these bills were crafted in a bipartisan fashion, with fifteen of the 35 bills being sponsored by Republicans.  These bills promoted targeted medical research, protected children from being exploited online, and, the subject of this post, increased assistance for college students wishing to study abroad.  With each of these bills receiving broad, bipartisan support in the Senate, you may ask why they were all packaged together in a hurried vote prior to the summer recess.  Enter Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK).

Senator Coburn is upset that the Senate is taking its focus off energy issues to vote on these bills.

When the Congressional Budget Office reported to Reid that his recent legislation would cost $10 billion to implement over the next five years, Coburn wrote Reid a letter suggesting that $45 billion in federal spending that he considered wasteful could be used to offset the costs of carrying out his omnibus package. Coburn, known for copiously holding numerous pieces of legislation from reaching the debate floor out of symbolic objections, has not openly expressed his displeasure with any of the specific bills in Reid’s omnibus, he said in a recent statement that he views it as a distraction from the Senate’s current energy debate.

A friendly civics reminder on Senate rules to those reading:

Senate procedure depends not only on the rules, but also on a variety of customs and traditions. In many cases, the Senate waives some of its stricter rules by unanimous consent. . .

A “hold” is placed when the Leader’s office is notified that a senator intends to object to a request for unanimous consent from the Senate to consider or pass a measure. A hold may be placed for any reason and can be lifted by a senator at any time. A senator may place a hold simply to review a bill, to negotiate changes to the bill, or to kill the bill. A bill can be held for as long as the senator who objects to the bill wishes to block its consideration.

Coburn is the senator who placed the hold on this particular package of legislation.  Any legislation that is held can only be debated by the Senate should the motion to proceed with debating the legislation be passed.  If there is no unanimous consent (which there isn’t in this case since Coburn objects), an end to the debate on whether to proceed or not (cloture) must be approved with 60 votes.  The motion for cloture on the motion to proceed failed yesterday as only 52 senators voted to end the debate.

Still with me?

One of the 35 pieces of legislation that was held hostage in the Republican-led procedural circus was  The Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act, named for the late Sen. Paul Simon (D-IL).  This legislation heavily consulted a report from the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program.  This commission evaluated the state of study abroad programs in the United States.  The report found that certain demographics, such as low-income students, students with a minority background, and math and science students, had difficulty studying abroad.  It also noticed that students mostly studied in Western European countries.  The Simon Act sought to increase the number of American students studying abroad from 225,000 to 1 million, especially among the aforementioned groups, and promote other, less popular locations to students.

Study abroad programs are wildly popular among this generation of young people.  A 2007 Open Doors report announced that there was an 8.5% increase of students studying abroad in the last three years.

A record 223,534 students from U.S. colleges spent anywhere from a January or summer term to more than a year earning academic credit in a foreign country. That was up 8.5 percentage points from the 2004-05 school year when 205,993 students went abroad and up 150 percent from the 1995-96 year when fewer than 90,000 students took classes over seas, the study said.

Its popularity isn’t exactly a mystery.

The Institute for the International Education of Students (IES), www.iesabroad.com, surveyed alumni from all IES study abroad programs from 1950 to 1999. Regardless of where students studied and for how long, the data from the more than 3,400 respondents (a 23 percent response rate) shows that studying abroad is usually a defining moment in a young person’s life and continues to impact the participant’s life for years after the experience.

Survey Item
% Full Year
% Fall
% Spring Semester
% Summer
% Total
Personal Development
Increased self-confidence 98% 95% 96% 97% 96%
Served as a catalyst for increased maturity 98% 97% 97% 95% 97%
Has had a lasting impact on world view 97% 95% 94% 92% 95%
Academic Commitment
Enhanced interest in academic study 81% 80% 79% 84% 80%
Influenced subsequent educational experiences 91% 85% 86% 84% 87%
Reinforced commitment to foreign language study 88% 83% 85% 90% 86%
Intercultural Development
Helped me better understand my own cultural values and biases 99% 97% 97% 95% 98%
Influenced me to seek out a greater diversity of friends 94% 88% 89% 86% 90%
Continues to influence interactions with people from different cultures 97% 93% 92% 92% 94%
Career development
Acquired skill sets that influenced career path 82% 73% 74% 71% 76%
Ignited an interest in a career direction pursued after the experience 70% 57% 59% 59%

So is it really any wonder that Millennials are disenchanted with the political process?  This is a perfect example of why.  A package of legislation with broad, bipartisan support is bogged down because one senator out of 100 is holding it up.  One of those pieces of legislation, a chance to dramatically grow and improve a life-changing program that is beloved by the most multicultural generation ever, is being squashed because some lawmakers are not willing to cooperate, compromise, and get something done.  Not only is this a significantly visible missed opportunity among Millennial college students,  but it is also a rejection of this generation’s pragmatic values.

Change may be coming, but there is still much work to be done.