TODAY President Clinton is in Seattle meeting with leaders of
the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Though relatively
unknown, APEC's membership encompasses half the world's output of
goods and services and about 40 percent of the world's trade.
At APEC, the media will focus on the economic dynamism of the
Pacific rim and on the US trade deficit with Japan and China.
As we debate issues of rice, semiconductors, and cars, however,
we should remind ourselves of an arena where the United States
holds an unchallenged surplus with Asia - and with the rest of the
world. That commodity is foreign students.
Foreign students spend more than $6 billion in the US every
year. East Asian and Pacific students alone spend $3 billion.
Department of Commerce figures show that expenditures by foreign
students have been increasing $500 million a year. By any measure,
foreign study at American colleges and universities is a growth
Such growth is not trivial, even in a trillion-dollar economy.
It rivals or outstrips big-league US exports like wheat, soybean,
corn coal, and lumber - even if it can't match export superstars
like aircraft and computers.
In the 1992-93 academic year, 214,535 students from East Asia
and the Pacific studied in the US. They were 48 percent of the
419,585 foreigners studying here - and the largest segment of
foreign students in any country. Eight of the top 10 places of
origin for foreign students are in Pacific Asia: China, Japan,
Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.
Of course, the significance of foreign students in the US is
greater and more interesting than their immediate contribution to
our economy. Students flock here for one simple reason: US colleges
and universities offer a combination of size, scope, and caliber of
educational opportunity that is unmatched.
Although their interests are as varied as those of American
students, their fields of study are focused mainly on business and
management (20.1 percent) and engineering (17.7 percent). The next
most popular area is physical and life sciences (8.8) followed by
mathematics and computer science (8.7 percent), the fine arts
(5.1), health sciences (4.1), humanities (3.8), and agriculture
What foreign and American students learn from each other may be
intangible; but it is of no less importance. Foreign students bring
to the US vitality, energy, and new ideas. …