The Power of International Education: Why Does America Need International Students?

The influx of international students in the United States has brought meaningful contributions to the country’s student diversity as well as the economy. The increase in number highlights the need to understand its impact on American education, strengthen universities’ marketing plan for student recruitment, and how the country should capitalize on this trend.

Economic Contributions

The number of foreign students in U.S. universities has increased dramatically over the past years. There were more than 1 million international students in the U.S. in 2019, and these students make up a notable percentage in the overall student population.

The impact of international education on the American economy cannot be overstated. In 2018, international students contributed $44.7 billion to the American economy, according to a report from the Institute of International Education. 

International students typically pay higher tuition, which boosts schools’ revenue. They also spend heavily on housing and other goods. China continues to be the biggest source of international students and has remained in the top spot for 10 consecutive years. India comes second, followed by South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Canada.

Fostering a Diverse Campus Environment

America’s education is considered to be the best in the world, and it is one way of maintaining the country’s power that is meaningful and constructive for the global community. Why then are the specific benefits for colleges and universities in America to recruit foreign students and for universities to strengthen their marketing plan for student recruitment

Besides increasing enrollment numbers, international students bring several benefits to an institution. Universities that cater to international students make an effort to create a dynamic and welcoming campus environment. 

A diverse campus prepares students for a life outside their comfort zones, having to interact with people who have different cultural backgrounds. This provides an authentic opportunity to learn about others and the world they live in. Diversity also brings people from multiple cultures and creates a productive learning environment.

International Student Recruitment Attracts the Best People

Universities are always looking to excel in different areas of education. Whether looking to attract top students or athletes or increase student recruitment strategies in higher education, it makes sense to cast the net as wide as they possibly could. International student admission will bring in the best and the brightest from all around the world.

How the world views the U.S. as a land of opportunity is rooted in the possibilities that these universities create. When foreigners view the country as a prized partner it enhances influence around the world. It is what we call “soft power”—a term coined by Nye in the 1980s, which means the country’s ability to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion.

The decline in International Student Enrollment

International student applications to the U.S. dropped 4% in 2017 and 2018, Market Watch reported. The political climate in the U.S. continues to trigger this decline, with President Donald Trump issuing a travel ban on those traveling from Muslim countries. The decrease in enrollment in the last two years cost the U.S. $5.5 billion and 40,000 jobs, which is why it is important to strengthen student recruitment strategies in higher education.

Dr. Esther Brimmer, executive director and CEO of the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA), said the downward trend must be tackled in order for the United States to remain competitive in today’s global market. She cited that international students and scholars create jobs, incite innovation, enrich classrooms, strengthen national security, as well as serve as “America’s greatest foreign policy assets.”

Cost also factors in. Many parents still want to send their children to the U.S. for international education, but cannot afford it. Tuition fees in colleges and universities keep going up and most foreign students have been priced out.

Kim Lovaas, director of international student services at the University of Washington, says that many families are more concerned about their children’s safety. “I don’t hear that international students are unwelcome. More than anything, I think we get questions about safety in the U.S. There’s been a lot of gun violence in the last couple of years, and I think that tends to concern families a lot more than anything,” says Lovaas.

Challenges and Opportunities

Visa issues are also a concern for many families. There is also a need for a better cost structure.

International students are faced with increased financial burdens and financial difficulties when it comes to processing their visas. For instance, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System fee increased from $200 to $350. Scholarships and flexible financing options, however, prove to be a handy solution. 

Today, U.S. colleges and universities still have a strong bid toward getting more international students and welcoming them on campus. Whether the main attraction is a prestigious degree from U.S. institutions (the American dream, they call it) or learning for a career in the future, the country remains a frontrunner in international education and will continue to do so in the years and decades to come.