Economic benefits of international education to the United States

jason1Editor’s note: this guest entry was kindly prepared by Jason Baumgartner (pictured to the right) of Indiana University in the United States. Jason has worked for the Office of International Services at Indiana University since 1999.  He is the lead software developer of the iOffice application suite, which is a comprehensive immigration case management solution to enable staff to proactively assist international students and scholars in maintaining their lawful stay without interruption.  This software is utilized by international offices throughout the Indiana University system and is licensed to other universities throughout the country.  He is a member of NAFSA.  He developed the current algorithm and conducts the annual analysis (since 2000) for the NAFSA Economic Impact of International Students.  He has a Master’s in Information Science from Indiana University.

As regular readers of GlobalHigherEd will notice, this is another in a series of entries (see ’Measuring the economic impact of ‘export education’: insights from New Zealand‘; Making sense of the economic contribution of international students in Australia (up to 2008)) that attempt to shed light on how countries calculate the economic impact (and ‘export earnings’) of foreign students.  I encourage you to read Jason Baumgartner’s entry below for its own sake, but also to begin comparing how the US (and this is really as close to an official view as one could get in the complex US higher education landscape) frames this issue in comparison to other countries, including New Zealand and Australia.

As I’ve noted before, we welcome guest entries on this issue from people studying the issue in any country, be they government officials, academics, consultants, or graduate students.  The issue of understanding the economic impact of foreign students is severely underdeveloped, with little reflection on how different analytical models (and associated assumptions) can generate very different findings.  Our thanks to Jason Baumgartner for his help in moving thinking about this issue forward.   Kris Olds

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NAFSA’s annual economic impact statements estimates the amount of money international students bring to the United States to support their education and stay.  For the 2007-2008 academic year it is estimated that international students contributed approximately $15.54 billion to the U.S. economy.   The following graph outlines the growth of this economic impact over the last 30 years:

NAFSA1

The economic impact is defined as the amount of money that international students collectively bring into the United States to pay for their education and to support themselves while they (and in some cases, their families) are here.

The methodology used to calculate the economic impact has been greatly refined over that last three decades with the current model in place since 2000.  The current algorithm in use was developed by Jason Baumgartner and Lynn Schoch at Indiana University – Bloomington’s Office of International Services.  The analysis of the dataset has been conducted each year since 2000 by Jason Baumgartner.

The goal of this economic impact formula is to use data already collected for other purposes to provide a reasonable estimate of the economic resources that international students import to the United States to support their education here each year.  The following figure outlines the algorithm:

NAFSA2

The data sets used for this analysis comes from the following two sources:

  1. The Institute of International Education annual Open Doors report, funded by the Department of State, provides numbers of foreign students at universities and colleges throughout the United States during the academic year.  In many cases, this data provide separate totals for undergraduate, graduate, and non degree students.
  2. Peterson’s provides cost figures for tuition, living, and miscellaneous expenses at U.S. institutions for the academic year.  In some prior years this information came from College Board.

The extensive data provided by these two sources (which collect it directly from surveys of the institutions involved) allow us to make our estimates sensitive to differences between institutions.  However, there are still areas where our estimates and formulas could be improved.  For example, we compute economic impact only for students reported in Open Doors.  Universities that do not provide information to the Institute of International Education are not represented.  Also, enrollment reports represent peak enrollment, and not necessarily enrollment levels throughout the year.

To estimate expenses we use tuition, fees, and living expenses estimates derived from Peterson’s data collected on surveys completed by institutions every year.  We try to make our calculations sensitive not only to differing costs at institutions, but differing costs for ESL students, undergraduates, graduate students, and students on practical training as follows:

  1. Undergraduates and English Language Programs: The number of undergraduate students at an institution is specified by Open Doors data.  Peterson’s data provide undergraduate tuition and fee amounts, on-campus room and board amounts, and miscellaneous expenses.  These categories are sometimes broken down into averages for international, out-of-state, flat rate, and in-state, students.  When multiple averages are available, we choose averages in the order given above.
  2. Graduate Students: The number of graduate students at an institution is specified by Open Doors data.  Peterson’s data provide graduate tuition and fee amounts, on-campus room and board amounts, and miscellaneous expenses.  If there are no differentiated graduate expenses provided by an institution in the Peterson’s data then the undergraduate expenses would be applied.
  3. Students on Practical Training: We assume these students earn enough in their U.S. jobs to pay living and educational expenses for the year, and so import no funds for their support.  Therefore, net economic impact of students in practical training is zero.

Economic impact of an international student equals tuition and fees, plus room and board, plus miscellaneous figured at 50 percent of room and board, less U.S. support.  We assume that spring enrollment figures are the same as the fall figures reported, that all students are enrolled full time for two semesters or three quarters a year, and that students live on campus for the full year.  The miscellaneous expenses, enumerated in Peterson’s data, average about 40 percent of room and board expenses.  We use a 50 percent figure as an approximation that includes all extra expenses except for travel.

The amount of U.S. support given to international students is calculated to subtract from the expenses in order to establish a greater sense of the export dollars flowing into the U.S. economy.  For this analysis the Open Doors survey is used; which asks schools to report the percentage of their students who are self-funded, the percentage who have U.S. source income, etc.  The U.S. support percentage includes funding from a U.S. college or university, the U.S. Government, a U.S. private sponsor or current employment.  For this analysis the percentages are calculated based upon the institution’s Carnegie classification and the academic career of the student.  For example, this process will differentiate the level of support between undergraduates and graduates at a particular research institution while it also differentiates between a baccalaureate classified institution from an associate’s classified institution.

This model represents the export dollars brought in to each institution, state, and the overall U.S. economy that can be tracked over time.  This provides a good measure for comparisons to other export data, such as data published by the Department of Commerce.  This estimate also takes into account any U.S. funding or employment the international students may be receiving in an effort to best represent these export dollars flowing into the U.S. economy.  This provides for an algorithm that identifies and estimates for this large U.S. export, provides a political argument for support of international education at both the national and university level, provides a trend of this data going back many years, and is very sound to hold up to the political nature of critiques of this statistical analysis.

There is no multiplier effect calculated within this analysis which may provide an even greater representation of the end result of these export dollars in terms of the additional revenue generated by the flow of these dollars throughout the overall U.S. economy.  Instead this model focuses on core export dollars as a result of international students studying within the United States.

For more information please refer to the NAFSA Data & Statistics.

Jason Baumgartner

Editor’s update: link here for the press release of the newest US report (‘International Students Contribute $17.6 Billion to U.S. Economy‘) which was released by NAFSA on 16 November 2009. The report was also produced by Jason Baumgartner.

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3 thoughts on “Economic benefits of international education to the United States

  1. Pingback: Measuring the economic value of Canada’s international education “industry” « GlobalHigherEd

  2. Pingback: The economic impact of international students around the world « GlobalHigherEd

  3. Pingback: Eine Anleitung zum Studium in den USA

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