I recently moderated a roundtable conversation between international students at Pace University and our local Assembly member, Yuh-Line Niou. It was a chance for the legislator to meet some of our students and to learn about the opportunities and challenges they’ve faced while studying here. Some of the topics were light—a Vietnamese student expressed amazement at the American habit of haphazardly pulling a business card from a pants pocket, compared to the much more studied presentation in Asia, while a Brazilian student noted the negative reaction here to her local custom of greeting professional colleagues with a friendly kiss on the cheek.
These students also spoke more seriously about the benefits of an education in the United States. There’s a more open social environment here, they said, more educational opportunities, more interaction with and mentorship from faculty and staff. A student from Eastern Europe praised the kinds of informal interactions with professors that are so common in the United States but not, she said, in her country. These students gain tremendously from the chance to experience our culture, learn from our experts, and connect with America’s global leaders in industry, research, activism.
But there are also real positives for American students, universities, and communities from having international students in our midst. In today’s globalized economy, academic and social interaction with students from around the world can provide our students with real educational and career benefits.
For more than a decade, Pace has recruited heavily around the world, bringing many international students with diverse perspectives into our classrooms. For this academic year, we have about 775 undergraduates and another 830 graduate students from 107 different countries. Students come to Pace to get a real-world, skill-based liberal arts education in one of the most vibrant and diverse metropolitan areas in the world. Our international students only help make our campuses and our classes more vibrant and diverse.
Learning and living alongside people from around the globe helps all of our students learn to avoid stereotyping and form more informed opinions. It gives them a better understanding of international issues, foreign affairs, and immigration issues. It provides opportunities for unique cross-cultural experiences, whether celebrating new holidays, sampling new cuisines, or traveling to visit friends in their home countries. It forces students to confront different interpersonal and communication styles, which makes them better active listeners and critical thinkers. And it opens them to wonderful personal and professional connections that will benefit them throughout their careers.
International students are important not just to the success of our students, but to the success of our colleges and universities. The reality is that the American college-aged population isn’t growing the way it used to. That’s particularly acute in the northeast, as populations shift south and west. But the number of high-school graduates across the United States is projected to increase by only 0.2% over the next nine years, compared to an increase of 6% over the previous nine years, according to new statistics recently released by the National Center for Education Statistics. That means international students are becoming increasingly important to keep our classes full, our tuition revenue up, and our institutions thriving.
And these students don’t just keep our schools succeeding, they help our economy thrive. International students studying at U.S. colleges and universities contribute $39 billion to our national economy and support more than 400,000 jobs, according to NAFSA, the association of international educators. In New York State, more than 120,000 international students contribute $5 billion to our economy and support 58,000 jobs, the group says.
Unfortunately, it’s becoming harder for international students to study in the United States. Tougher visa rules and general anti-immigrant sentiment are making those students feel less welcome. Potential students I met on a trip to Asia and India last fall still dreamed of studying in the United States—but they were also looking to colleges and universities in other, more welcoming English-speaking countries, like Australia and Canada, as alternative options.
In fact, a report last year from the Institute of International Education and the U.S. State Department found that new international student enrollment fell for the second consecutive year in the 2017–2018 academic year, with another IIE survey suggesting that declines have continued this academic year, too.
We must affirm the importance of international students to the United States and to global understanding. International students are good for our colleges and universities, good for our students who will work in a globalized world, and good for the economy. We must make sure we continue to welcome them to our country and our campuses.