International students contribute to U.S., Wisconsin economies

Nearly 765,000 international students studied at universities and colleges across the United States in 2011-12, bringing incalculable academic and cultural value to the local institutions and communities where they lived.

But the benefits of attracting students from other countries extend beyond academics and culture.

These visiting students and their dependents contributed $21.8 billion to the U.S. economy in 2011-12, and supported nearly 300,000 jobs, according to a report by NAFSA: Association of International Educators. This includes tuition and fees and living expenses for the students and their dependents.

NAFSA, the world’s largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education, calculated the economic impact of international students by using enrollment information from the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors 2012 Report and tuition and expense data compiled by Wintergreen Orchard House. The report included breakdowns by state, congressional district, and institution.

In 2011-12, Wisconsin universities and colleges enrolled 9,987 international students, who contributed nearly $256.5 million to the state’s economy, according to the NAFSA report. The vast majority of the state’s international students were enrolled at University of Wisconsin System campuses, but these figures also include many of the state’s technical colleges and private institutions.

About half of the state’s international students lived in Madison, where most attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison (4,840), but Edgewood College (38) and Madison Area Technical College (96) also enrolled students from outside the United States. According to the NAFSA calculations, these 4,974 international students contributed more than $126.7 million to the Madison-area economy.

“International students contribute greatly to the campus in many ways,” says Laurie Cox, assistant dean and director of International Student Services (ISS).

Based upon their experiences back home, students from other countries can add a lot to discussions inside and outside of the classroom, Cox says.

“In our International Reach program, international students serve as global ambassadors as they share their first-hand knowledge about their home countries in UW–Madison classrooms and out in the greater Madison community,” she says. “International students also help American students prepare to study abroad.”

Another 2,396 international students attended colleges and universities in the Milwaukee area, adding $63.9 million to the regional economy.

Here, at a glance, are the estimated 2011-12 contributions of international students to the local economies in other regions of Wisconsin:

  • La Crosse, 447 international students, more than $10.4 million
  • Fox Valley (including Oshkosh, Appleton and Green Bay), 417 students, more than $13.3 million.
  • Eau Claire, 258 students, nearly $6 million
  • Stevens Point, 256 students, nearly $5.7 million
  • Menomonie, 224 students, more than $4.7 million
  • Superior, 172 students, nearly $3.7 million
  • Whitewater, 158 students, more than $3.3 million
  • Beloit, 127 students, more than $5.8 million
  • Sheboygan, 116 students, nearly $3.2 million
  • River Falls, 89 students, more than $1.9 million
  • Platteville, 86 students, nearly $1.9. million

Over the last decade, the number of international students studying globally grew from 2.1 million to 4.1 million, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED). During that same period, the Institute for International Education Project Atlas data shows that the number of international students studying in the United States grew by 31%, while the percentage share of international students worldwide studying in the United States decreased by 10%.

Further analysis by NAFSA shows that for every seven enrolled international students, three U.S. jobs are created or supported by spending in several sectors: higher education, accommodation, dining, retail, transportation, telecommunications, and health insurance.

NAFSA points to its data to emphasize that international education, by any measure, makes a significant contribution to the U.S. economy.

— by Neha Alluri