US: International students pay nearly $19 billion

A study released last week by NAFSA: Association of International Educators estimated that international students and their families contributed an impressive $18.78 billion to the US economy during the 2008-09 academic year - an increase of $1 billion over the previous year.

The US economy actually grossed $25.5 billion from nearly 700,000 international students in 2008-09 through a combination of tuition and fees and living expenses for them and their dependants. But 28.3% of this total came from within the US in the form of institutional grants, government or private scholarships or fellowships, and other funding sources.

Such a large contribution to the economy is noteworthy, especially in the context of the current global recession, says Ursula Oaks of NAFSA. "In tough economic times, foreign students and their families continue to make a significant economic contribution to communities across the United States. At more than $18 billion annually, it is this country's fifth-largest service-sector export, according to the Department of Commerce."

Whether the growth can be sustained is moot, however, since international student enrolments to US institutions are up this year by a mere 2.9%, as opposed to a 7.7% increase in 2007-08.

The NAFSA data provide interesting insights into the distribution of international students. California, New York and Texas continue to be the most popular states - and consequently earn the greatest revenues associated with their tuition, fees and living expenses. Together, the three states enrolled about one-third of all the international students in the US, and contributed about $6.39 billion to the economy.

However, the increases in student enrolments enjoyed by California, New York and Texas were only slightly up, compared with last year's numbers. The states with the greatest increase were Indiana (8.6%), Ohio (7.9%) and Massachusetts (4.4%), according to the Open Doors report.

Cited as the major reasons for the increases were intensified recruitment efforts, growing reputation/visibility and increased linkages by international institutions with US institutions abroad. Declines in enrolments were blamed on the cost of tuition and fees, along with the impact of the world financial crisis and difficulties associated with the visa application process.

Importantly, 61% of the responding institutions specifically took counter-measures to address the threat of declining numbers of international students, establishing international programmes of collaboration and increasing funding for resources to international recruitment.

Keeping international student numbers up is key to fostering a more global perspective on American campuses, says Oaks.

IIE chief operating officer Peggy Blumenthal elaborates: "Active engagement between US and international students in American classrooms benefits the host campuses not just financially, but also intellectually." Further, it helps build "cross-cultural skills that will make [American students] more effective global professionals, preparing them to work with counterparts around the world in addressing shared global challenges".

NAFSA calculated the figures for The Economic Benefits of International Education to the United States: A Statistical Analysis, 2009-10 from data compiled by the concurrently released Institute of International Education (IIE)'s Open Doors 2010 report and the higher education database compiler Wintergreen Orchard House. Analysis was provided by Jason Baumgartner of Indiana University-Bloomington's office of international services.

This is a very informative article. Good to see that international students are not only helping the economy to grow but also their intellectual abilities play important role.

Hur Hussain