Continuing our series this week examining the impact of foreign students on local economies and highlighting real-life stories about their presence on campuses and communities around the country, we turn to the midwestern states. There, foreign students spent more than $3.5 billion during the 2008-2009 academic year across the region, according to NAFSA's Economic Impact Statements released Monday. Overall, foreign students and their dependents contributed $17.6 billion to the U.S. economy in the same time period.

See how each state benefited in this chart and keep reading to hear how one immigration coordinator in Ohio has witnessed first-hand the impact of the economy on her foreign students and her community, and what you can do to help.

When Dollars and Cents are Making Headlines We Have to Reach for Something Tangible

Megan C. McCarthyBy Megan C. McCarthy

I can, without a doubt, say that I love my job. Growing up, children dream of being a doctor, a firefighter or even a movie star. Although I didn't dream of being an immigration coordinator, at this point in my life it is hard to imagine a career path that would be more fulfilling.

Every day I meet with students from all over the world. We discuss how they can renew their visa when they return home to see their family, how challenging it is to keep up with the fast pace of academia and even how to respond to the smiling American student walking past exclaiming "Hi, how are you?" However, in the past year or so there is one recurring theme that has dominated more of my advising time than any other – paying for an American education.

If you watch the evening news or read your local paper, you are aware that economies all over the world have suffered great losses. We've felt it in our own community. I have a colleague whose husband lost his job when his family's business was forced to close its doors. Similarly, we have international students whose families have been forced to close their businesses more than half a world away.

Some of the hardest conversations I have had with our students relate to how they are going to pay tuition and living expenses for another year or two in order to complete their degree. We have students who understand that they need to return home for now while others are filled with tears and disappointment that their years of planning and hard work now need to come to a halt. Even more troubling are the students who decide to remain here and struggle.

As  international educators, we advocate the intrinsic value that cultural exchange brings to our campuses and essentially to the United States. However, when dollars and cents are making headlines we have to reach for something tangible. NAFSA has published its annual Economic Impact Statements to put a dollar amount on the impact of international education in the United States. The monetary impact international students and their dependents have on our economy is astounding. It is time for us to advocate not only the cultural value but the economic value as well. Your senators and representatives need to hear from you.

We are all busy. But are we too busy to speak out for what we believe in? NAFSA's made it easy for us. Visit NAFSA's Take Action Center. There, you can customize letters on behalf of international education to send to your Ccongressional representatives. We cannot wait any longer. Now is the time to take action. You can make the difference. ACT now.

Megan C. McCarthy is an immigration coordinator with the Office of International Affairs at The Ohio State University. Currently, she serves as the NAFSA state whip for Ohio and will represent Region VI as the KC-ISSS liaison in 2010. These reflections are representative of her personal views only.

If you want to share your story, visit NAFSA's Take Action Center today, and be on the lookout for more state-level data and personal stories throughout the week.