University of Iowa

International student enrollment soars in Iowa and nationally

November 24th, 2015

Report finds nearly $351 million impact in Iowa last year

By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette


Students file into the block in front of the President's house for the President's Block Party after the Convocation Ceremony, all to welcome the class of 2019. The block party included music, dancing, and food for the new students. Officials project this class will include a record-breaking 5,000 students, from 4,666 new students last year. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

The number of international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities last year saw its biggest increase in 35 years — an uptick reflected in Iowa, which experienced an 8 percent bump in foreign students and saw a $351 million economic impact, a study shows.

Iowa State University and the University of Iowa host the most international students in the state, both ranking in the top 50 nationally out of 1,485 higher education institutions, according to a new 2015 Open Doors Report from the Institute of International Education.

ISU ranked 44th in the nation with 4,425 foreign students in the 2014-2015 academic year — up 34 percent from 3,302 in 2010, according to the Open Doors report. UI ranked 47th with 4,360 foreign students — up 68 percent from 2,589 five years ago.

Iowa as a whole ranked 22nd in the country in foreign students in the state with 12,220, an 8 percent increase over the previous year. Nationally, the number of international students at U.S. colleges and institutions grew 10 percent to a record high of 974,926 students, according to the report.

Downing Thomas, associate provost and dean of UI International Programs, said his office has been intentional about growing international enrollment in hopes of creating a “more globalized” campus with new opportunities both for domestic and foreign students.

“If we have a significant international student population, we can create programs that allow students to learn from each other and develop connections and ties,” Thomas said.

‘They are investing in the state’

Communities also benefit economically from international students through their spending on things like tuition, housing, dining, transportation, shopping and health care. The nearly 975,000 studying at U.S. institutions last year contributed $30.5 billion to the economy and supported more than 373,000 jobs, according to the report.

Estimated foreign student expenditures in Iowa reached $350.9 million last year, according to the report, representing a 43 percent increase from 2010.

At the UI alone, international students contributed $183.1 million to the local economy and supported 1,735 jobs, according to data from UI International Student and Scholars Services.

Thomas said that comes through students themselves and their family members.

“From food purchases to cars,” Thomas said, “they are investing in the state.”

And, he said, benefits from a thriving international student population extend beyond their stay.

“They come and get a world-class education, and when they go back to their countries, they go as leaders,” Thomas said. “They become ambassadors for us. It’s important as a sort of soft diplomacy.”

‘A need for more resources’

China remains the top country of origin for international students in the United States — with more than 304,000, or more than 31 percent of the total last year. Other countries that saw big increases include Brazil, which sent 78 percent more students to U.S. institutions last year; India, which sent 29 percent more; and Kuwait, which sent 24 percent more.

Iowa’s leading places of origin include China, accounting for 44.6 percent of the total; India (8.4 percent); and South Korea (6.4 percent) according to the report.

Of UI’s international students this fall, nearly 2,800 are from China, according to UI International Programs. Of ISU’s total this fall, nearly 1,800 are from China, according to its registrar.

Thomas said UI recruiters are looking to diversify the campus’ international student portfolio, taking advantage of government scholarship programs and starting initiatives in places like Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Norway.

“We think it’s important to have a broad array of students on campus so there’s a diversity of experiences and backgrounds that benefit everyone,” he said.

Deb Vance, interim ISU director of International Students and Scholars, said Iowa State draws students from 116 countries but the campus always is looking for ways to increase its diversity.

She praised the cultural and economic benefits international students provide but also said the increases — like those occurring among the overall ISU student body — can stress the system.

Citing added costs associated with educating and providing services to international students, ISU this fall proposed a supplemental tuition increase of $500 a year for three years for all international students. The $1,500 increase, which still has to be approved by the Board of Regents, would be assessed for all current and new international students.