As part of America’s larger story of respect for—and interest in—all cultures and faiths, ECA’s range of programs exist to encourage mutual understanding as well as international, educational and cultural exchange, and leadership development.
From artists, educators, and athletes to students and the youth in the United States and from almost every other country and territory throughout the world—we engage rising leaders through academic, cultural, sports, and professional exchanges. Striving to reflect the diversity of the United States and global society, ECA programs, funding, and other activities encourage the involvement of American and international participants from traditionally underrepresented groups, including women, racial and ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities.
To increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange that assist in the development of peaceful relations.
For more than 50 years the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) has sought to cultivate mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries to promote friendly, and peaceful relations, as mandated by the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961.
ECA exchange program alumni encompass over 1 million people around the world, including more than 75 Nobel Laureates and nearly 450 current and former heads of state and government.
A brief history of the bureau and the events that led to its establishment are chronicled in this timeline:
1940 Coordinator of Commercial and Cultural Affairs for the American Republics, Nelson Rockefeller, initiates the exchange of persons program with Latin America; inviting 130 Latin American journalists to the United States
1942 Office of War Information (OWI) established to consolidate scattered agencies of domestic and foreign information
1946 President Truman terminates OWI; one section is placed within the Department of State as the Office of International Information and Cultural Affairs (OIC). OIC has a network of 76 branches worldwide; 67 information centers and libraries stock books, display exhibits and show films.
1946 Fulbright Program is established
1947 OIC is renamed the Office of International Information and Educational Exchange
1948 Rep. Karl Mundt and Sen. H. Alexander Smith introduce the Smith-Mundt Act, establishing a statutory information agency to "promote a better understanding of the United States in other countries, and to increase mutual understanding" between Americans and foreigners
1948 International Visitor Program formally established to engage professionals, intellectuals and opinion leaders in the political and social infrastructure
1953 President Eisenhower establishes the United States Information Agency (USIA) to consolidate information functions administered by the State Department and other agencies. Educational and cultural exchanges remain within the State Department
1959 The exchange function is separated from the State Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs and is assigned to a newly created Bureau of Educational and Cultural Relations (CU).
1961 Congress passes the Fulbright-Hays Act to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. By the end of the year, a Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is established in the Department of State
1978 President Carter approves a major reorganization of USIA, combining it with the department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to become the United States International Communication Agency (USICA)
1978 President Carter initiates the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Program
1982 President Reagan changes USICA’s name back to USIA
1983 The Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program begins
1984 Congress creates the Cultural Property Advisory Committee to help stem illicit trafficking in cultural property. The CPAC secretariat is housed in ECA
1992 Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program is established
1999 USIA moves into the State Department where exchange programs and other USIA components comprise the department’s new Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), which maintains its authority under the Fulbright-Hays Act
2000 Congress creates the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation
2000 Congress establishes the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program to broaden the U.S. student population that studies and interns abroad.
2001 ECA creates Alumni.State.Gov to connect exchange alumni in Southeastern Europe and Eurasia
2004 ECA establishes the Office of Alumni Affairs and expands Alumni.State.Gov into a global network
2006 The Bush administration launches the National Security Language Initiative, including ECA’s NSLI-Y initiative focused on American youth and ECA’s Critical Language Scholarship Program focused on American undergraduate and graduate students.
2008 ExchangesConnect debuts as the first social network of the U.S. government
2010 The International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) celebrates its 70th Anniversary
2015 ECA establishes the U.S. Study Abroad branch to expand study abroad opportunities for American students to gain critical skills in support of our national security and economic prosperity.