International students add US$40 billion to economy

The one million international students studying in the United States contributed US$40.1 billion to the American economy during the 2022-23 academic year, says a report published online on 13 November by NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

While the figure is still below the US$40.4 billion record recorded in 2018-19 (when there were almost 1.1 million international students in the country) – the last year before the COVID-19 pandemic – it is US$6.3 billion (or 19%) higher than in 2021-22.

The 368,333 jobs generated by international students’ spending – both at their colleges and universities, and in their communities – is almost 10% higher than last year and is 20% higher than during the year when America’s borders were closed because of COVID.

These figures, which NAFSA announced in a press release unveiling the website entitled “NAFSA International Student Economic Value Tool” (ISEVT), follows by a few days NAFSA’s announcement for the formation of a coalition with 11 other partners to increase enrolment of international students in the United States.

The coalition, called the US for Success Coalition (USSC), includes NAFSA, the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, World Education Services and Niskanen Center (a Washington DC-based think tank dedicated to strengthening liberal democratic governance and promoting prosperity and opportunity that this year was named “The Most Interesting Think Tank in American Politics” by Time Magazine).

USSC will work with the US government, colleges, universities and community colleges, and other stakeholders such as the business sector, to coordinate efforts in seven key areas.

Among these areas is diversifying the pool of international students that come to the US, with an emphasis on the Global South, economically underrepresented students, and women. USSC will also work towards ensuring that US colleges and universities are not hamstrung by policies and practices that prevent them from competing effectively in attracting and supporting international students who seek to come to the US, and to enable businesses to hire them.

According to Fanta Aw, NAFSA’s executive director and CEO, the ISEVT places data drawn from The Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, produced by the New York-based Institute of International Education (with funding from the United States Department of State), in both the national and granular level contexts.

“We break [the economic data] down by state. We break it down in terms of what it looks like for English language programmes, community colleges and other stakeholders. It’s really important for the work that we do for folks to understand that the contributions of international students are multi-dimensional,” said Aw.

“In addition to the research and innovation, startups and entrepreneurship, there is also undeniably an economic contribution that they [international students] make to American society,” said Aw.

Economic benefits by state

The state that benefitted the most from international students was California, where 138,393 international students pumped US$6 billion into the state’s economy, creating 55,167 jobs. New York, where 126,782 international students spent US$5.8 billion, which supported 50,430 jobs, was in second place. Texas was third on the list, with 80,757 international students spending US$2.2 billion that supported 21,568 jobs.

Smaller states also benefitted. Rhode Island (population 1 million), for example, hosted 4,786 international students who spent US$257.6 million that supported 2,256 jobs, while the figures for Alabama (population 5 million) were US$305 million being spent by 9,022 international students and 2,259 jobs being supported. In Nebraska (population 1.9 million), in the central part of the country, 812 jobs were supported by the US$112 million spent by 4,057 international students.

The ISEVT divides states according to their congressional districts, providing education policy planners with granular data that in some cases is almost at the neighbourhood level. For example, New York’s District 13, which covers the neighbourhood of Morningside Heights, had 24,178 international students who contributed US$1.1 billion that supported 10,305 jobs.

ISEVT’s full economic report on this district shows that Columbia University’s international students contributed US$877 million that supported 8,986 jobs while international students at the Manhattan School of Music supported 132 jobs via spending US$29 million.

Community colleges

The ISEVT also supplies information on America’s community (junior colleges), which, in addition to providing education in technical fields like welding, respiratory therapy and car repair, have since the mid-2010s provided a pathway to four-year BA granting institutions via articulation agreements that ensure that most, if not all, credits earned in the two-year institutions are accepted by four-year state colleges and universities.

In total, community colleges enrol more than 52,000 international students, who contributed US$1.5 billion to the country's economy and supported 6,602 jobs.

California, Texas and New York, which are also among the top five states that benefited from overall spending by international students, saw injections of US$449 million, US$227 million and US$77 million, respectively, by students enrolled in their junior colleges; together these three states have 196 community colleges.

Also among the top five states that benefited from spending by international students in community colleges are Washington and Florida. Respectively, these states received US$132 million and US$129 million, which created spending that created 1,127 jobs in these states.

Student expenditure

The ISEVT also provides NAFSA and its partners with detailed information about the impact of international student expenditures in all of the 50 US states. For example, in 2022 the 43,495 international students in Pennsylvania contributed US$2 billion to the state’s economy and supported almost 22,000 jobs: 60% were in education (that is, jobs in their colleges and universities), 16% in accommodation, 10% in dining, 8% in retail and about 2% in health insurance, telecom and the transportation sectors.

Pennsylvanian’s figures are close to the national average. By contrast, in Nevada, which hosts just over 2,000 international students who contribute US$61 million that supported 522 jobs, the sectoral breakdown is significantly different: 48% of the jobs are in education while 21% are in accommodation, 13% in dining, 10% in retail and about 3% in the health insurance, telecom and transpiration sectors.

North Dakota, too, differs from the national average. Its 2,102 international students contributed US$44 million to the state’s economy, generating 284 jobs, only 45% of which were in education, while 22% were in accommodation, 14% in dining, 11% in retail and 3% in each of the other four sectors.

English language programmes

More than 10,225 international students were studying in English Language Programs (ELP; that is, English as a second language programmes). Together, they contributed US$370 million to the American economy and supported more than 3,100 jobs.

The states with the largest number of international students studying English were Texas (1,533), California (1,336) and Florida (1,023), which, respectively, have benefitted by US$49.3 million, US$64 million and US$29.7 million. Together, these states have 1,290 jobs that were supported by the contribution international students made to the states’ economies.

ISEVT’s data reveals a curious fact. States such as Kentucky, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, as well as Missouri, Georgia and Arizona, all of which have enshrined English as their official language (there is no federally mandated official language), benefit from tens of millions of dollars from international students who are studying in ELPs.

International students spent US$2.8 million in Kentucky, US$2.9 million in Tennessee, US$3.9 million in North Carolina, US$1.5 million in South Carolina and US$3.7 million in Missouri, US$7.7 million in Georgia, and US$15 million in Arizona.