Want to spark a debate? Just bring up American higher education. For proponents, our public universities and private college are the envy of the world, a research mecca that draws the brightest minds to our shores. They are America’s true competitive advantage, incubating startups, pushing boundaries, preserving cultures, and training the professional ranks. To critics, they are just bloated and insulated relics that don’t prepare graduates for the work world. They are proverbial money pits, resistant to change and designed to protect faculty perks under the guise of academic freedom.
And don’t get anyone started on the “college experience,” which runs the gamut from beer-soaked revelry to midnight shifts at IHOP.
One thing is for sure: The world’s students are flocking to American campuses in droves. According to the Brookings Institution, foreign students attending American universities and colleges jumped from 110,000 in 2001 to 524,000 in 2012. American education has become a destination, with 819,614 overseas students enrolling during the 2012-2013 school year (accounting for 21% of all students who study abroad). Then again, American institutions have always been a draw to overseas students, who represent 3.4% of American enrollment, “a share that has remained relatively constant over the past 60 years” according to Brookings.
The Value of Foreign-Born Students
Like the value of American institutions themselves, this trend also fuels arguments. For some, these migrations take spots from American students or even train our future business and geopolitical competitors. But that isn’t necessarily true as Brookings pointed out in this same report:
“The benefits these students provide [to] their colleges and universities are well understood. Only recently, however, have local leaders began to appreciate that students from fast-growing foreign economics can also be important anchors in building global connections between their hometowns abroad and their U.S. metropolitan destinations. With knowledge of both markets, foreign students can be valuable assets to local business communities that are seeking to expand globally and the wider metropolitan economies in which they sit.”
In other words, these graduates serve as bridges, navigating cultural and business divides while forming networks with classmates and institutions that wouldn’t otherwise exist. And that brings up a question: Where will these next networks be built – and by whom?
You’ll find some of these answers in the Brookings Institution’s “The Geography of Foreign Students in U.S. Higher Education: Origins and Destinations,” which was released on August 29th. The study, which relies on a “unique and never previously accessed government database,” examines questions relating to the home countries, fields of study, and economic impact of foreign-born students studying under a F-1 visa in the United States.
Business is Top Field of Study
At the undergraduate and graduate levels, business is the most popular subject for overseas students. In fact, nearly a third – 32.4% — of these students majored in business, management, or marketing from 2008-2012. This is over 10% higher than American students in general. Look at it another way: The 173,372 business majors from overseas are roughly equivalent to foreign-born students majoring in engineering (61,438), social sciences (37,422), computer and information sciences (22,792), biological sciences (21,602), health sciences (19,794), and communications (15,193).