Zirpoli: International students taking business elsewhere

Our nation’s broad immigration and visa policies have a major impact on our economy. These policies determine if farmers will have enough people to pick their crops. In Maryland, these policies determine how many crab pickers will be allowed in the state. One area we may not pay much attention to is how these policies encourage or discourage international students to attend our colleges and universities.

According to Homeland Security, there were 1.12 million international college students in the United States in 2017. This was a decrease from 1.23 million in 2016. How important is this to our economy? According to the Association of International Educators (AIE), international students contribute about $40 billion to our economy annually, supporting 455,000 jobs. America hosts the most international students in the world. Given the current political climate in Washington toward immigrants and visitors, however, students are beginning to look elsewhere.


According to the Institute of International Education, the U.S. hosted 24 percent of all international students in 2017, down from 28 percent in 2001. Meanwhile, places like Canada and China have seen large increases during the same time period. The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) recently looked at the impact of international students on local economies around America. Their study also found a decrease in the number of international students enrolled at American colleges and documented the impact on local economies that depend on the purchasing power of these students.

At Michigan State, for example, where 1 in 8 students is an international student, the community “has grown up to meet their needs and cater to their tastes” according to Karin Fischer’s research for the CHE. With over 6,000 international students, East Lansing, where the university is located, is able to support three Asian markets because many of their international students are from China. All of the food stores in East Lansing have expanded their international offerings to attract these students to their markets.

“The economic power of the foreign students who have come into our community is tremendous,” says Robert Trezise, chief executive of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership. The AIE estimates that international students bring about $346 million into the East Lansing economy and support about 4,700 jobs. Unfortunately, Michigan State has seen an 18 percent drop in their international student enrollment from 2014 to 2017. The AIE identified other schools around the nation that welcome and attract international students to even a larger degree than Michigan State. For example, the large contingent of international students at three schools in and around Boston (MIT, Boston University, and Northeastern University) contribute about $1.6 billion to the local economy.

Unfortunately, what should be considered a major benefit to the United States has been portrayed differently by some officials in Washington. This has many colleges and college towns worried as they have seen a decrease in students looking to study in the United States. Two major reasons account for this decrease. First, the current administration in Washington is scaring away many students, especially students from China and predominantly Muslim nations, who typically make up a large proportion of international students here. China sends more students to America than any other nation.

The second reason for the decline is that other countries, seeing the “Not Welcome” sign in Washington, have reached out and increased their recruitment of these students. In the past, they had a difficult time competing with American colleges and universities. Now they see an opportunity to make international students welcomed where they may not be in the U.S. In Maryland, the University of Maryland, College Park, reported 4,878 international students from “at least 49 countries,” in 2017, with 73 percent of them in graduate programs. International students represent about 12.5 percent of the student body at College Park.

Here in Carroll County, McDaniel College is host to over 20 international students, according to professor Amy McNichols, McDaniel’s international student adviser, and Global Fellows program director. McNichols reported that these students “hail from all corners of the globe,” — Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Many of them, said McNichols, “have lived in multiple countries and speak three or more languages.” She adds that they are very involved in on and off-campus activities and have significant “spending power” at local businesses.

As a nation, we should be proud that students from around the world want to continue their education in America. While we provide them with a top-notch education, they provide us with an economic boost and a better understanding of people from around the world. Sounds like a win-win to me.