Public Opinion Supports International Education

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By a large and bipartisan majority, Americans support international education even as they remain concerned about the U.S. economy amid a continuing partisan divide in Washington, according to a 2012 Election Eve/Day national public opinion poll commissioned by NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

Americans understand that in order to innovate and compete now, we must prepare students by giving them the skills necessary to navigate life and careers in an interconnected global economy. What’s more, Americans strongly believe colleges and universities need to do a better job providing the international education, foreign languages, and study abroad opportunities they see as essential for today’s students.

Languages, Global Knowledge Seen as Essential

Question 1

Response Percentage
8-10 (Very essential) 43
6-7 (Moderately essential) 20
5 (Neutral) 15
0-4 (Not essential) 21
Don't know 2

Respondents were asked: If increasingly we live in a globally connected world, please tell me on a scale that goes from 0 to 10—where 10 is very essential and 0 is not essential at all—how essential do you think studying abroad, learning foreign languages, and learning about other cultures are to the educational experience?

Ranking the value of international education, a strong majority of respondents, 63 percent, say it is very essential or moderately essential to the educational experience. Across all respondents, the average (mean) response of 6.6 suggests that Americans overall believe international education is essential to the higher education experience.

Question 2

Response Percentage
Strongly agree 64
Not so strongly agree 15
Not so strongly disagree 6
Strongly disagree 12
Don't know 3

Respondents were asked if they agree or disagree with the following statement: Unless our colleges and universities do a better job teaching our students about the world, our children and grandchildren will not be prepared to compete in the global economy.

A very strong, bipartisan majority of 79 percent of Americans surveyed agree that America’s higher education institutions must do a better job of teaching students about the world if they are to be prepared to compete in the global economy. Significantly, nearly two-thirds of those surveyed (64 percent) felt strongly that colleges and universities need to do more to provide our students with a global education.

Question 3

Response Percentage
Strongly agree 44
Not so strongly agree 19
Not so strongly disagree 12
Strongly disagree 21
Don't know 4

Respondents were asked if they agree or disagree with the following statement: In order to thrive in the global workplace, more students need the opportunity to participate in a study abroad program while in college where they can spend time living and studying in another culture.

Nearly two-thirds, 63 percent, of those surveyed believe our young people need to spend time living and studying in other countries in order to gain the international skills needed to thrive in the global marketplace.


Americans are largely united in the belief that international education is vitally important to our economy and the success of today’s young people in navigating a competitive global workplace. Americans feel strongly that colleges and universities need to do a better job teaching students about the world.

These findings are particularly significant at a time when concern about jobs and the economy is high. And, in a time of sharp differences between political parties, the results demonstrate broad bipartisan agreement at all socioeconomic levels and demographics in support of international education both as an essential element of a modern college or university experience and as a key to future U.S. economic competitiveness.