Only fifty years ago, the geopolitical landscape shifted with the emergence of independent nations and the bipolar struggle for influence in world regions. U.S. leaders were increasingly confronted with the need to understand the Soviet Union, its allies, and the countries of the world in which the Cold War was being played out. Spurred by the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik, federal funding to establish foreign language and area studies programs at U.S. universities was authorized under the National Defense Education Act of 1958, later incorporated into Title VI of the Higher Education Act. To ensure scholars would also receive the critical overseas educational experiences necessary for developing high levels of language and area expertise, the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange (Fulbright-Hays) Act of 1961 was enacted.
The Fulbright-Hays programs, administered by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), are distinct from the Fulbright programs administered by the U.S. Department of State. While both sets of programs serve international education and national security interests, their specific goals and program emphases differ. State Department programs focus on exchange for mutual understanding by bringing overseas scholars and professionals to the United States and by sending U.S. citizens (often with no prior international experience) abroad.
In contrast, the Fulbright-Hays programs at the U.S. Department of Education serve a domestic agenda. Authorized under Section 102(b)(6) of the Fulbright-Hays Act, they support the internationalization of the nation's educational infrastructure by strengthening area and foreign language expertise among current and prospective U.S. educators.