International Students Bringing Bucks to College Campuses

Article excerpt

They come to study, with big bank accounts.

The roughly 8,000 international students gathering for classes at Western Pennsylvania colleges and universities this fall will bring nearly $220 million a year for tuition and living expenses into the region, a recent study for the Association of International Educators estimated.

In a metropolitan area in which the international population is 3 percent -- about half that of comparably sized regions -- international students offer other cultural perspectives.

They bolster finances at the schools where they typically pay the highest tuition rates but receive little or no financial aid. The University of Pittsburgh, for example, expects about 2,300 international students this fall who each will pay tuition of $24,680, compared with Pennsylvania residents who pay $15,272 apiece.

"It really assists in helping the balance of trade. ... And it speaks to the U.S. system of higher education as still being desired and the top of the world," said Charles Nieman, director of International Services at Pitt.

Faculty and staff will notice more international undergraduates at the school's branch campuses in Greensburg, Johnstown and Bradford as well as at the main campus in Oakland, Nieman said.

Although instructing international students might not appear to be an export, the Commerce Department ranks international education as the nation's sixth-largest service-sector export behind travel, financial services, management consulting, royalties and licensing, and industrial processes.

In 2010, such education brought $21.3 billion into the United States.

China topped countries sending the greatest number of students to schools locally and nationally, with 127,628 students last year, followed by India, which sent 104,897.

Jun Ma, 24, a Shanghai University graduate, passed up a full scholarship to a Swedish university for a chance to earn a two-year master's degree in mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University costing about $59,000 a year.

"It's more valuable to come to the U.S. My parents absolutely wanted me to come. I think they regarded it as an investment in my future," Ma said.

Immigration rules, documents

International students make up about 3.7 percent of the nation's college students. At CMU, where their numbers soared from 1,061 in 1992 to 3,330 today, they account for one-third of students. Such numbers bring challenges, too.

Linda Gentile, director of the Office of International Education at CMU, said her staff members became increasingly versed in immigration law in recent years.

Last week they met with their first group of 200 new international students to reiterate the need to follow immigration rules and maintain proper documentation.

"We've seen a number of passports that went through the washing machine, and I can tell you, it's not a pretty sight. …