International Students Who Graduated in 2016 Contributed $19.6 billion to the American Economy Over the Course of Their Studies, New Study Shows

International students created or supported more than 81,000 U.S. jobs in a variety of industries in the last year of their educational programs

New York, NY – As Americans celebrate the graduating class of 2017, New American Economy has issued a study on the economic value of international students in the country’s $542 billion higher education industry. The research brief shows that international students who received their diplomas in 2016 contributed $19.6 billion to the American economy over the course of their studies. Moreover, in just the last year of their programs, they created or supported more than 81,000 U.S. jobs in a variety of industries, from educational services, to accommodation, to retail.

International students contribute to the economy largely from their spending on tuition and course materials, as well as rent and other everyday expenses (gas, groceries, food, etc.) for themselves and their dependents. Travel for visiting family members plays a role too.

For the study, New American Economy researchers use estimates on the economic activity and jobs created and sustained from international students produced by NAFSA, a national association for professionals working in international education, to calculate the total economic contribution of international students during their studies in the United States.

Reflecting on the Economic Value of International Students, finds:

  • The states where international students made the largest contributions were those with the largest public education systems. The 29,276 international students who graduated from New York schools in 2016 contributed $2.9 billion to that state’s economy throughout their time in school, while the 23,792 California graduates added $2.5 billion. In Massachusetts, the equivalent figure was $1.5 billion, while in both Texas and Pennsylvania, it sat at around $1 billion.
  • Breaking it down by degree level, undergraduate enrollees contribute the most to the American economy. International students earning bachelor’s degrees contributed $9.1 billion to our economy during their years of study. Meanwhile, master’s students added close to $7.3 billion, while the equivalent figure for foreign-born doctoral students was roughly $3.2 billion.
  • Although data on the exact number of international students graduating this year is not yet available, there are many reasons to believe that the contributions of this year’s students will be similar, if not higher. Since 2011, the number of international students in the United States has increased by at least 4% every year, going from around 760,000 in the 2011-2012 academic year to more than 1 million in 2015-2016.
  • There are worrying signs that enrollment of international students is declining. According to a recent survey of 250 universities in the country, almost 40 percent of institutions reported a decline in applications from international students hoping to enter in the 2017-2018 school year. If this translates into an actual drop in international enrollment, it could destabilize university budgets, and potentially, the quality of education and facilities available to all.

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…