A Portland-based nonprofit announced Monday that it will contribute more than $20 million toward a global effort aimed at doubling the number of American college students who study abroad by 2020.

The pledge by the Council on International Educational Exchange is the largest of some 450 commitments made to the five-year initiative, which was launched in March by the Institute of International Education in New York City.

About 285,000 U.S. college students studied abroad in the 2011-2012 school year, according to the latest data from the institute, which conducts research on studying abroad and administers scholarships, including the federal Fulbright Program. The institute believes the number of students participating is insufficient given an increasingly global marketplace. Its initiative, called Generation Study Abroad, aims to eliminate barriers that impede students from studying in foreign countries – an experience once seen as a luxury for the elite but now, in many fields, is a resume requisite.

The primary reasons why students decide against studying abroad, or don’t consider it at all, are the cost of the schooling and travel, requirements for certain academic majors, and a university or family culture that doesn’t emphasize international study, said Jim Pellow, president and chief executive officer of CIEE. He said the Portland nonprofit, which both administers study-abroad programs for American students and brings foreign students to the United States, spent six months figuring out the most meaningful way it could help meet the 2020 challenge.

In addition to $20 million in scholarships and grants over the next five years – about double what it awards now – CIEE plans to send staffers around the country to help students apply for passports and pay for about 10,000 of the travel documents.

“If you have a passport, you’re going to use it. You’re going to be motivated,” Pellow said.

CIEE also will award a $20,000 grant annually for the most innovative new study-abroad program. That’s intended to be an incentive for faculty to come up with ways to provide students such as athletes and science majors, who may find it difficult to leave campus for a whole semester, with opportunities to travel overseas.

Institute Deputy Vice President Daniel Obst, who is overseeing Generation Study Abroad, said CIEE’s pledge is by far the biggest made so far. The money will come from internal funds, grants and gifts, according to CIEE. Obst didn’t know the total amount of money that has been committed to the initiative, or what the next-largest pledge is.

Of the 450 or so partners from around the globe that have joined the initiative, about 300 are U.S. colleges and universities, many of which are offering new funding options for their students. Educational associations, government entities, foreign universities and study abroad organizations like CIEE are among the other partners.

Of CIEE’s commitment, Obst said, “I think it will make a strong difference in achieving our goal.”

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