AAC&U News, August 2018
Facts & Figures

What International Students Bring to a Community Near You: Money and Jobs

International students are a boon for colleges and universities. The wealth of experiences and unique perspectives they bring to course discussions or team projects can bolster global learning and intercultural knowledge and competence—critical learning outcomes featured in AAC&U’s VALUE rubrics—without students ever leaving campus for study away programs.

However, according to the recently updated “International Student Economic Value Tool” from NAFSA: Association of International Educators, international students also bring more tangible benefits to their campuses, cities, and states: tens of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs.

International Students Studying at US Colleges and Universities

According to the 2017 Open Doors report, in the 2016–17 academic year, 1,078,822 international students studied at US colleges and universities on nonimmigrant student visas. “There were 85 percent more international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities than were reported a decade ago,” the report said. International students now make up more than 5 percent of students studying at higher education institutions in the United States, “up from three to four percent earlier in the decade,” which the report attributes to both an increase in international students and slight decrease in American students. About 50 percent of international students came from China and India alone (though China sent nearly twice as many students as India), followed by South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Canada.

National and State Impact of International Students

  • Overall, NAFSA reports that the “international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities contributed $36.9 billion and supported more than 450,000 jobs to the U.S. economy” during the 2016–17 academic year (see fig. 1).
  • This was a huge increase from 2006–7, when 582,984 international students contributed $14.5 billion to the economy and supported more than 238,147 jobs.
  • In the 2016–17 academic year, funds from international students directly created or supported 153,603 jobs, and indirectly supported another 296,663. Of the jobs that international students directly supported, most were within the higher education (57 percent), accommodations (17 percent), dining (11 percent), or retail (9 percent) industries. International students also supported the telecommunications, transportation, and health insurance industries.
  • NAFSA’s interactive tools allow users to generate reports disaggregated by state or congressional district (see fig. 2).

Figure 1. Economic Impact of International Students in US Higher Education


  • California was most impacted by international students, with 156,879 students contributing $6.0 billion to the economy and supporting 70,131 jobs (see fig. 2). Other states greatly benefiting from international students include New York (118,424 students, $4.6 billion, and 55,851 jobs); Massachusetts (62,926 students, $2.7 billion, and 36,679 jobs); and Texas (85,116 students, $2.1 billion, and 27,232 jobs).
  • The states that had the lowest impact from international students were Alaska (419 students, $10.8 million, and 84 jobs); Wyoming (1,155 students, $24.7 million, and 232 jobs); and Maine (1,341 students, $53.3 million, and 467 jobs).

Figure 2. Economic Impact of International Students in California


International Students at Community Colleges

  • The benefits from international students also extend to community colleges. According to another NAFSA analysis, “the 96,472 international students studying at U.S. community colleges contributed $2.4 billion and supported more than 14,000 jobs to the U.S. economy during the 2016-2017 academic year” (see fig. 3).
  • The states most benefiting from international students at community colleges include California (28,921 students, $799.8 million, and 4,842 jobs); Texas (15,882 students, $318.3 million, and 1,896 jobs); and Washington (12,148 students, $268.9 million, and 1,514 jobs).
  • However, several states saw more limited impact from community college students, including Alaska (2 students, $32,000, and unknown jobs); New Hampshire (2 students, $69,000, and unknown jobs); and Montana (27 students, $563,000, and 3 jobs).

Figure 3. Economic Impact of International Students at Community Colleges


Unless cited otherwise, images and statistics in this article are included by permission from NAFSA: Association of International Educators from their “International Student Economic Value Tool” and "Economic Value of International Students at U.S. Community Colleges" reports. 

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AAC&U News is written and edited by Ben Dedman. If you have questions or comments about the newsletter's contents, please e-mail dedman@aacu.org.


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