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Massachusetts remains a destination for international students


August 25, 2020

Given the recent political discourse out of the Trump administration, it should come as no surprise that the number of international students coming to the United States for a college education is declining nationwide. Between the travel ban, threats to withhold visas from certain countries, and the general tone regarding longstanding immigration policies, one can understand why international students and their families may be reluctant to venture to the United States for an education.

However, Massachusetts continues to buck this declining trend in international students. According to the 2018 Open Doors Report, released yesterday by the Institute of International Exchange, Massachusetts is attracting international students in record numbers to attend colleges and universities throughout the state. This sustained increase is the result of a tremendous effort from: our outstanding institutions of higher education to recruit international students and ensure they feel welcome on campus; our government leaders to continue to proclaim that Massachusetts is an open and welcoming state; the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau to brand Massachusetts as a destination for international students; and officials at MassPort to greatly increase the number of direct international flights at Logan to serve these students and their families.

According to the 2018 data, Massachusetts saw an 8.4 percent increase in the total number of international students, bringing the total number of international students up to 68,192. This ranks 4th among all states – trailing only California, Texas and New York for total international student enrollment. In 2017-2018, China and India were the leading countries of origin for international students in Massachusetts, with China representing 34.2 percent of international students and India representing 16.7 percent.

Nationally, new international student enrollments fell by 6.6 percent in the 2017-2018 academic year in the Open Doors Report. Total international student enrollment, which includes international students currenting attending college and those remaining in the United States through students visas to participate in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, increased modestly by 1.5 percent.

International students and their families have a tremendous impact on Massachusetts, the colleges they attend, and the students they interact with. The most obvious impact is the pure economic benefit through estimated international student expenditure in Massachusetts – which the 2018 Open Doors Report estimates at over $3 billion. This figure represents the total spending from international students and their families – on everything from tuition to books, meals to hotels, and housing to transportation. Spending by international students in their host communities, particularly for those attending colleges in smaller communities outside of Boston, have an enormous and outsized impact on the local economy.

However, the true impact of these students goes far beyond an economic impact analysis. International students bring their culture and unique experiences with them onto campus and into the classroom. This is an invaluable learning opportunity for all students – as it allows for an open cultural exchange of ideas in an academic setting. Both international and domestic students are able to learn from each other and hopefully carry these lessons with them beyond graduation.

It is through this open exchange of ideas and information that the United States can once again demonstrate to the world that we are a welcoming and accepting country. As our international students return to their home countries, they will represent our greatest “exports” from Massachusetts – a highly educated citizenry prepared to operate in the new global economy.