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Published: June 27, 2011

Fulbright Exchange Program

A program originally created under the Fulbright Act of 1946, which used the proceeds from the sale of surplus U.S. government property abroad to pay for the international exchange of professors and students. Developed by Senator J. William Fulbright (1905–95) to foster mutual understanding, the program was expanded in 1961 with passage of the Mutual Education and Cultural Exchange Act. The Fulbright-Hays Act, as the second law was called, provided for fellowships for American scholars and educators to study and teach overseas and for foreign scholars and educators to do the same in the United States. The program supports doctoral dissertations, group study and research projects, curriculum study projects and individual research.
In its first 50 years, the number of Americans sent abroad and foreigners brought to the United States by the Fulbright Program totaled about 250,000. Among the many American Fulbright scholars who rose to prominence were composers Aaron Copland and Philip Glass, writers Joseph Heller, John Updike and Eudora Welty, economist and Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman, Harvard University president Derek Bok, and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Foreign Fulbright scholars have included United Nations secretary general Boutros Boutros Ghali, Brazilian president Fernando H. Cardoza, Greek prime minister Andreas Papandreou and Swedish prime minister Ingvar Carlsson.
A five-term senator from Arkansas, Fulbright became interested in foreign affairs during his student days at Oxford University in England. Much later, he became the long-time chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Although an attorney by training, he had spent four years teaching at George Washington University and the University of Arkansas, from 1935–39, and then served as president of the University of Arkansas from 1939–41. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1942 and spent the rest of his career in public service.
In 2005, about 3,000 foreign students from more than 130 countries came to the United States under Fulbright auspices, and some 1,200 American students, out of more than 2,100 applicants, won Fulbright scholarships to travel overseas to study, teach English or engage in research. The majority of Fulbright scholars (and applicants) emerge from academically selective universities, with more than 20 scholars each from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and University of California at Berkeley.