President's Blog

The two-way value of international students

The international flow of students is invaluable for students themselves and a good deal for the United States.

Last week, I was on a panel on Capitol Hill discussing the recent Open Doors report and the importance of international education, an event hosted by the U.S. House of Representatives Caucus on International Educational and Cultural Exchange. I was delighted to help heighten the importance of this topic among policy makers.

Since 2010, international student enrollment in the U.S. has grown by about 50 percent to reach more than 1 million students. Mason’s international enrollment has grown by 75 percent since 2010 to become the second largest in Virginia. The U.S. does quite well in attracting international students, but perhaps not as well as you might think, and there is more recent disquieting news about slowdowns in international student interest.

U.S. higher education drawing students from around the world generates substantial economic impact. Each year international students contribute nearly $37 billion to the U.S. economy and support over 450,000 jobs. In Virginia alone, international students bring in an estimated $688 million in spending each year and support over 9,000 jobs. International students enrich the intellectual life of our campuses, contribute to the global education of our students, and, with their tuition dollars, help subsidize tuition costs for domestic students. What’s not to like?

Welcoming so many international students at U.S. colleges and universities also allows for identifying and retaining the best and brightest in the world. I appeared on PBS NewsHour last year to review how valuable immigrants are to universities, innovation, and the U.S. economy.

Yet, on the other side of the equation, too few domestic students are going abroad. Only about 10 percent of domestic undergraduate students study abroad. This is far too low and leaves too many students under-prepared for the globalized world. I have previously argued for more domestic students to study in other countries.

The international flow of students is a strategic imperative for our universities and the competitiveness of our economy. Accepting students from abroad and promoting students to go abroad is essential to be able to cooperate and compete globally. The growth in student mobility over the past decade has brought tremendous opportunities to students, and I welcome efforts to maintain this growth.