It was Saturday, January 12, 1980. As his Philippine Airlines flight PR-104 from tropical Manila landed in Honolulu, Hawaii, the 24 year-old young man wondered what his new life would be like as an international graduate business student in the United States. This would begin his American journey as he made his way to Pittsburgh. Would the city, its world-recognized corporations, and three universities really appear as shown in the university recruitment materials he received a year earlier? After further stopovers in San Francisco and New York, he finally arrived in Pittsburgh the following morning, Sunday, January 13, meeting his host family and seeing snow flurries for the first time. He and his hosts accomplished many things that Sunday. He found an apartment within walking distance to Pitt, bought household supplies, and settled in. That Monday morning, he was at Pitt opening his bank account. Upon reporting to the Foreign Students Advisor, he was informed he had missed international student orientation and the first week of classes. Despite the mishap, he completed his registration and attended his first class in the MBA program—Financial Accounting—with about 100 other students.
Each of the nearly 800,000 international students in the United States has a similar story. What do international students have to do with excellence in higher education?
They bring global perspectives into U.S. classrooms and research labs. They support U.S. innovation through science and engineering coursework making it possible for U.S. colleges and universities to offer these courses to U.S. students. Finally, by paying out-of-state tuition funded largely by non-U.S. sources, they support campus programs and services that all students enjoy. It is for these reasons and more that our country is celebrating International Education Week during November 11 – 16.
“International outlook” is measured by the number of foreign-born students and faculty, as well as research programs with an internationalization component. These results impact rank and comprise 7.5 percent of the criteria of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. International students also contribute to the American economy. Annually, the Association of International Educators (NAFSA) calculates the economic impact of international students and their dependents here in the U.S. During the 2009-2010 academic year, NAFSA estimated that international students and their dependents contributed approximately $18.8 billion to the U.S. economy and $2.9 billion to California. Woodbury University’s share was $7 million.
My university is proud to have attracted the highest percentage of enrolled international students (17% of the student population) among the master’s degree-granting universities in the Western region. Our 291 international students—50 graduate and 241 undergraduate—come from 45 countries. The top five places of origin are Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, Taiwan, and Iran, accounting for two-thirds of our international student population.
These future leaders build bridges between the United States and other countries. International students add diversity which enriches the experience of other students on campus by providing them opportunities to learn about other cultures. Schools with a strong global presence often have a wealth of cultural groups and events, thereby allowing international students an opportunity to share their food, music, and traditions with their U.S. peers.
By the way, the international student who shared his story at the beginning is yours truly. America has been my adopted country, and I am thankful for having been given the opportunity to be of service to the American people through education. What is your perspective on the role and impact of international students in U.S. higher education?
I am Woodbury University President, Dr. Luis Calingo. Thank you for letting me share Reflections on Excellence.