Everyone in the (international education) business can recite by rote the long litany of tangible and intrinsic benefits that accrue from having large numbers of international students study in the US or any country for that matter. It’s clear, however, that economic impact is becoming increasingly important in the moribund economic climate in higher education and elsewhere in American society.
In 2010/11, the US hosted a record 723,277 international students, which amounts to 21% of all international students, according to UNESCO. These students contributed $20.2 billion ($20,232,000,000) to the nation’s economy. “Education is one of our most valuable exports,” said Francisco Sánchez, under secretary of commerce for international trade, who led an education trade mission last year to Vietnam and Indonesia. There is a need, perhaps now more than ever, for more international students and all of the contributions, including financial, that they make to US society. And there is considerable untapped potential.
The total economic impact of the nearly 15,000 Vietnamese students in 2010/11 was $416 million using information (PDF download) from NAFSA: Association of International Educators. This is an extraordinary sum for a country at Vietnam’s stage of development with a GDP of just over $120 billion in 2011. (In case you’re counting, the estimated amount spent on study in the USA by Vietnamese families last year equaled .35% of the nation’s GDP.)
Since the above Open Doors statistics include only regionally accredited institutions of higher education and exclude other Vietnamese enrollments (e.g., nationally accredited schools, private boarding schools, most of which are in the 40-50k per year range per year), the total economic impact is considerably higher.