New NAFSA Data: International Students Contribute $32.8 Billion to the U.S. Economy


New state and congressional level economic data now available


Rebecca Morgan, 202.495.2553,
Katie O’Connell, 202.495.2559,

WASHINGTON, November 14, 2016 – NAFSA: Association of International Educators announced results from its latest economic analysis of international students studying in the United States. The new data released today found that the 1,043,839 international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities contributed $32.8 billion and supported more than 400,000 jobs to the U.S. economy during the 2015-2016 academic year. This is a 7.4 percent increase in job support and creation, and a 7.5 percent increase in dollars contributed to the economy from the previous academic year.

California, New York and Massachusetts again saw the largest benefits from spending by these students and their families on living expenses, tuition and fees. Further analysis shows that three U.S. jobs are created or supported for every seven enrolled international students, by spending in the following sectors: higher education, accommodation, dining, retail, transportation, telecommunications and health insurance.

Although there continues to be an annual increase in economic benefits, the United States is still behind in the global competition for talent. While the number of internationally mobile students has more than doubled over the past fifteen years, the U.S. market share of international students is down by 6 percent, according to Project Atlas data. NAFSA attributes this decline, in part, to the urgent need for the United States to develop proactive government policies and strategies to ensure the country remains globally competitive.

“Despite the fact that international students comprise just over five percent of enrollment in U.S. colleges and universities, they continue to bring billions of dollars to our nation’s economy and hundreds of thousands of jobs for the American people,” said NAFSA Executive Director and CEO Marlene M. Johnson. “If our campuses and communities are to continue to benefit from both the academic and economic benefits these students bring, we must ensure that our government policies encourage them to choose the United States as their first choice for higher education.”

The economic analysis was conducted for NAFSA by Jason Baumgartner of Indiana University’s Office of International Services, using enrollment data from the Institute of International Education's Open Doors 2016 report, which is produced in partnership with the Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and using tuition and expense data from the Department of Education's National Center of Educational Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.