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Who’s Luring Foreign Students and their Export Spending?

Earlier this week, the Association of International Educators (NAFSA) released new estimates of the expenditures of international students in the United States during the 2011-2012 academic year. According to the organization, this education spending (which count as exports) totaled about $21.8 billion last year in the 50 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia, an almost 8 percent nominal increase from 2011. The 764,500 international students attending higher education in the United States represented about 3.7 percent of the total higher education enrollment, as documented by Institute of International Education.

What’s new since 2011?

China, India, and South Korea, the top three origin countries for international students in the United States, concentrate an increasingly higher share of foreign students. Ten years ago, these three nations represented about 31 percent of the number of foreign students in the United States, now they are close to half. China drove this result, with the number of Chinese students in the United States increasing threefold over the last decade.

A diverse group of U.S. states grew the most their foreign student contingent from 2011 to 2012: Idaho, New Mexico, Washington, Kentucky, and Arizona. Universities in Idaho increased their number of foreign students by 40 percent, albeit from a low level in 2011 (about 2,100 students). However, this is not the case with all the fastest-growing states; Washington universities had 17,800 foreign students last year and managed to attract another 2,400 students from abroad (a 13 percent increase), more than top recipients, such as Illinois and Michigan.

Idaho also grew the fastest its education exports in 2012. The income from foreign students at universities in Idaho increased by more than 36 percent between 2011 and 2012, in a state with tuition and living costs below the national average. This differs from the second-fastest growing education exports state, Tennessee, where a foreign student had to pay about $30, 411 annually in tuition and living expenses during the 2011-2012 academic year. The Southern state increased its income from foreign students by almost 34 percent, well above the 9 percent gain in the number of foreign students.

In a global economy beset by rapidly decelerating world trade, U.S. education exports managed to maintain a high rate of growth last year. As the rankings of the states with the fastest growth in the number of students or income from foreign students show, both expensive and low-cost states have an opportunity in growing their education exports. The spending of foreign students in the United States is money brought into the U.S. economy from abroad, as good as any earnings from selling abroad food, cars, or chemicals.