International students have been part of the United States campus community for decades. Historically, most have come to this country for graduate work. Increasingly, though, international students are coming as undergrads. Their growing presence on college campuses — and their ability to pay full tuition — is boosting strained budgets and providing cross-cultural experiences to U.S. students, most of whom never study abroad.
Peggy Blumenthal, the senior counselor to the Institute of International Education’s president, said the number of foreign undergraduates in the United States has been rising rapidly since the 2010-11 academic year. And 81% of them pay their own tuition.
The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has more international students than any other public institution in the country. Nearly 10,000 students come from outside of the United States to join its programs and more than half of them come from China, according to Nicole Tami, director of international student integration.
“The more that state funding shrinks, the more we have to turn to other resources, including donations and external grants that faculty are bringing in, as well as international student tuition,” Tami said. “U of I, like many other institutions, is riding that wave.”
Tami spoke to a group of journalists at the Education Writers Association National Seminar in Chicago. While some colleges have faced criticism for increasing international student enrollment to increase tuition revenue, Tami said these students provide a lot more to the campus community and the region more generally.
Many of them shop at local clothing stores, dine at nearby restaurants, buy real estate, and start businesses near their campuses. “They’re innovative and they’re creative and they bring money back into the community,” Tami said. “That money is being used to subsidize programs on campus that benefit all students, including domestic students.”
At this point, nearly one-third of all international students in the United States are from China, according to Institute of International Education statistics. Significant numbers of students come from India and South Korea, with a growing population of students from countries like Brazil and Saudi Arabia, where governments offer scholarships to interested young people.
The economic benefit for communities and individual colleges is easy to tally. The cultural exchanges, though, are seen as important contributions, too. While studies have shown many international students often do not form close friendships with domestic students — in the same way that low-income students or students of color tend to cluster among their own groups on campuses — students from China or India or Brazil bring their perspectives to class discussions and student activities.
In a global economy, this intercultural sharing helps prepare students for jobs in which they’ll have to work with people from other countries.
“We’re talking here about globalization and higher ed’s response to globalization,” said Gil Latz, president-elect of the Association of International Education Administrators. “International students on campus build cultural competency.”
Latz is the associate vice president for international affairs at Indiana University and spoke with Tami and Blumenthal at the Education Writers Association National Seminar. He said students coming from abroad become investors in world peace and allies in addressing international issues because of their experiences in the U.S. education system.
If they help plug budget holes, too, isn’t that a win-win?
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