By Weiss, Suzanne
State Legislatures , Vol. 39, No. 3
Bright, adventurous and fluent in three languages, 18-year-old Chelsea Tan came to the United States last fall to begin a rigorous course of study leading to a degree in health physics--an opportunity she wouldn't have had in her native Malaysia.
"Back home, Malays are given preference in admission to universities," says Tan, who is half-Chinese. "And even if I had been accepted, there are hardly any advanced programs in physics, which is what I wanted to study."
So Tan, whose parents are footing the bill for her college education, selected Colorado State University from among several schools that appealed to her. She is learning how to ski, planning to visit New York and Los Angeles, and enjoying participating in a new school program called "Global Village," designed specifically for international students.
Typically the best and brightest of their countries' young people, foreign students like Tan bring entrepreneurial energy and talent to American colleges and universities particularly in the fields of science, math and engineering. Their presence on campuses and in communities can enrich the culture and further the increasingly vital goal of improving cross-cultural fluency and understanding.
One of the biggest benefits many see in attracting foreign students, however, has to do with economics. They contribute $20.2 billion a year to the U.S. economy--in tuition, fees, rent, transportation, food and other living expenses, according to the Association of International Educators.
With revenues lethargic and national student populations tapering off, a growing number of states are working hard to enlarge their share of this booming international higher-education market. Legislators in at least 23 states have passed joint resolutions calling attention to the importance of either attracting foreign students to study in America or sending American students to study abroad.
"The world is really shrinking, and so we know that we've got to do more to attract top students from other countries, and give our own kids the chance to interact with other cultures," says West Virginia Senator Bob Plymale (D), chairman of the Senate Education Committee. "We want to be a leader in internationalizing our colleges and universities."
A Joint Effort
Postsecondary institutions are working together under various states' banners--Destination Indiana, Study Texas, Education USA Vermont and so on--to develop marketing campaigns to recruit foreign students to their states.
These state consortia, which include both public and private and two- and four-year institutions, are designed to heighten the profile of a state's entire higher-education portfolio, from flagship state universities to community colleges to small, liberal arts institutions.
These groups typically are involved in marketing their schools through websites and social media; collaborating with state economic development, tourism and foreign-trade agencies; and sending representatives to higher-education fairs sponsored by the U.S. State Department throughout the world.
Over the past several years, postsecondary institutions in 24 states--Alabama, California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin--have formed consortia focused on recruiting greater numbers of "internationally mobile" students, and Florida, Montana and North Carolina are looking at doing so. Several states have regional initiatives under way: Campus Philly and Global Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, Study Western Massachusetts in Massachusetts, and Metro NY in New York.
Although these groups enjoy the backing of a wide range of political, business and education leaders, support from legislators can make the difference. …