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Are We Listening to International Students?
Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction
Are We Listening to International Students?
In a recent International Herald Tribune article, two young students from Sub-Saharan Africa were found stowing away on an international flight to a destination in the United States. They were quoted as saying they would do almost anything for an excellent American education. They wanted to study in the United States in order to gain the skills so they could participate in developing and improving their country.
International students are telling educators that they are willing to relocate, find funding, and contribute to their local and adopted community in order to obtain a higher education. Currently, there is a network of over 450 overseas advising centers which are listening objectively to the needs of international students. Advisers provide prospective students with information on the application and admissions process. Further, they help these students find appropriate American educational institutions which match the students' career and educational goals and provides practical advice on visas, passports, cultural, and academic life in the United States. The stated mission of these American centers is to increase mutual understanding among nations and foster cooperative international development efforts. Peace through education may take longer than other diplomatic efforts, but it seems to benefit both the student and the United States.
How are international students telling us that an education in the United States is important? In the last 25 years, international student enrollment has increased from 34,232 to nearly 481,280 students enrolled in 1998. Over 76% of these students are self-funded. A very small percentage receives U.S. Government support to study in the United States. Many of the current world leaders and future leaders have studied in the United States, and the recent Time magazine article on the Asian Recovery lists American alma maters of Asian leaders and their children.
Having international students pursuing their educations in America is a win-win situation for everyone. Having a strong international and student alumni network helps to build long-term relationships and trust that is critical for the United States to become an effective global citizen. Additionally, it is estimated that the economic impact of having international students studying and living in America contributes over $8 billion a month to the American economy. In Arizona, it is estimated that the 9,150 international students who attended in 1998 contributed $157,379,695 to the state economy. The presence of international students is estimated to create nearly 100,000 jobs in the United States.
Unfortunately, the United States has become complacent when listening to the needs of international students. Federal funding and policy support is declining. Each year budgets are cut for support of overseas advising centers. Community colleges have seen a steady increase in enrollments of international students but are hesitant to provide national leadership and monetary support for the advising network that sends the students to them. A recent conference entitled: "U.S. Leadership in International Education: The Lost Edge" was held in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the United States Information Agency. Leaders from all segments of higher education, government, and business discussed ways to increase support for maintaining the high level of objective and unbiased information on American higher education that is provided by overseas advising centers that monitor the steady flow of international students. All were reminded that each segment has a critical part to play in advocating, supporting, and advising international student education.
Other countries are recognizing the value of having international students studying in their countries, and they are aggressively financing recruiting efforts. Canada, Great Britain, and Australia have looked at all areas of the international student experience in order to recruit them. They have improved their student visa procedures, actively supported their overseas advising centers, and developed strong national policies to support international education. The United States still remains the number one choice for many international students, but this status is threatened by the proactive strategies of other countries.
Supporting and listening to international students benefits everyone. Students learn skills, become acquainted with American culture, and contribute to the economies of their host and native countries. Education benefits by having a diverse student body and steady international student enrollments. Communities benefit financially by developing global citizenship. Businesses benefit by having an educated global workforce and employees with real-life cross cultural skills. Not listening to international students is a lose-lose situation.
We need to continue to listen, advocate, and support our international students and the overseas advising centers which assist them. International student voices are telling us that higher education is very important to both their countries and them. In spite of amazing obstacles and general American complacency, international students are enrolling in our educational programs. They are telling us that they are willing to relocate, invest in their futures, and return to their countries to improve economies and living conditions. International students are communicating through their actions and their resources. Is the United States ready to listen and respond to their voices in a mutually beneficial manner?
Information and statistics from:
Advising & Student Service Branch, U.S. Information Agency. "Fact Sheet: Economic Impact of International Students," 1997-98.
"U.S. Leadership in International Education: The Lost Edge," Conference Report & Action Agenda. U.S. Information Agency and Educational Testing Service, 30 Oct. 1998.