International Education In the Ozarks

Updated: Jul 21, 2019

Hello everyone! Today we’re going to spend some time talking about our neighbors! Specifically, the thousands of international students that live across the Ozarks.

International students and their impact on this area is a subject I’ve wanted to discuss for some time now for several reasons. For one, the increase in international students over the past ten years has been (at least for me) very visible in Springfield. Whether it be on the sidewalk, grabbing dinner, or just grocery shopping, international students have become a common sight, particularly in the downtown area.

This observation coupled with my own experience as an international student, created a sense of curiosity about the experience of these students, their contributions, their struggles, and the impact the locals can have on them.

The final piece of the puzzle has come through our work here at OIO. As OIO has explored events highlighting the international connections and diversity of the Ozarks, we’ve routinely seen, attended, and been impressed by events where schools highlight their international student population.

A few months ago, this work with OIO led me to the awesome opportunity to sit down and talk with Kelsey Goin, the Special Programs Coordinator at the Missouri State English Language Institute (ELI). Together, we touched upon a wide range of subjects related to her experiences with international students. At one point the discussion turned toward the perceptions that locals had of the students. While Mrs. Goin emphasized that most interactions and experiences were very positive, she did note that she had encountered the misconception that international students “take” more than they give; that they receive American money to attend schools without offering much in return.

The interview with Mrs. Goin combined with my own observations, interests, and the things we’ve seen here at OIO, encouraged me to write about this issue. While there is so much more to understand and explore when it comes our international student population, I wanted to explore the topic of the economic contributions they make to our community as it establishes a steady foundation to build upon when it comes to understanding the ways international students contribute to our region. So, with all that said, let’s take a closer look at the economic impact of international students!

Foreign Students in America

Over the latter half of the 20th century, the United States has been a popular destination for international students due to its reputation for high quality schools, universally recognized degree programs, and an overall welcoming culture toward foreigners. Nevertheless, over the past two decades the growth in popularity has been particularly strong.

In 1999 there were around 500,000 international students in the US, representing around 2.5% of total enrollment. Today, that number is somewhere around 1,100,000 with just over 5% of students enrolled - or 1 out of every 20 – being an international student! The sharp increase in students is well laid out in the chart below.

With international students representing 5% of all enrollment it would be fair to suggest that they’re contributing a lot to the American economy, even if they don’t remain here after they graduate. After all, tuition is expensive, and students need housing and food. However, without actual data we can’t say how much impact they’re really having.

Luckily, those numbers exist. NAFSA, an organization focused on international education, conducted a country wide analysis of the economic impact of international students. Their analysis of the 2017-2018 academic year concluded that ~1,100,000 international students in the US contributed approximately $39 billion to the US economy and created or supported over 455,000 jobs! NAFSA’s website has lots of cool data on the economic impact of international students, including tracking the number of students, their impact over time, and even a breakdown of the types of jobs supported. Check the hyperlink above if you’re interested!

Thanks to NAFSA’s numbers, we can say that 455k jobs and $39 billion is a huge contribution to the country, but what about the other side of the argument? Where is this $39 billion coming from, and how much of it is being brought in by international students, and how much of it is being “given” to them by the government or their schools? While this argument is a bit simplistic, I nevertheless feel it’s important to address this potential perspective.

NAFSA doesn’t have the answer to this question, but luckily IIE does. According to their comprehensive breakdown of the data, 83.3% of primary funding for education comes from a mixture of personal or family funds (58.6%), Foreign governments or universities (5.2%), foreign private sponsors (.6%), current employment (18.8%), or an international organization (.1%). For comparison, only 15.8% receive primary funding from a US College or University, and only .2% from the US Government. Even that number is somewhat inflated by the amount of support grad students receive from universities, with over 80% of undergrads primarily funding their education with personal or family funds.

International Students in The Ozarks

As we have seen above, international students make significant contributions to the US economy, both directly to the economy as well as through creating and supporting jobs. However, how much of that really applies to the Ozarks? While over the last decade I’ve seen an increase in the number of international students, anecdotes cannot be relied upon. And even if there has been an increase, how much of that can really be felt in the Ozarks? After all, there are plenty of universities and colleges across the US, many of which would be much more popular than the Ozarks.

It’s a bit more difficult to find out just how many international students are located within the Ozarks, however we can get a rough idea by examining some of the international student populations in various schools. According to Missouri State, in 2018 they had an international student population of 1,226. While Director Stebbins from Missouri Southern State University placed the international student population at that university at about 230. From Drury’s website, we can see that they have approximately 260 international students. Meanwhile The University of Arkansas in Fayetteville lists their international student population at 1,446. With these schools alone the population is over 3,000.

So how much does these over 3,000 students contribute to the Ozarks economically? Below is a chart showing most of the schools within the Ozarks and the contributions that international students have made to them.

All-in-all, from the numbers I was able to find, international students contributed an impressive $153.2 million and 1502 jobs to the Ozarks region during the 2017-2018 year alone. Although the Ozarks has a fraction of America’s total international student population, we nonetheless see very impressive economic benefits from our international neighbors!

Parting Thoughts

Relative to the rest of the country, the Ozarks may not boast a large population of international students. Nevertheless, there are thousands of international students from all over the world living right here in the Ozarks. In pure economic terms, these students contribute a great deal to our community, with over $153 million coming in the 2017-2018 school year alone!

However, international students offer the community so much more than just money. Director Chad Stebbins from Missouri Southern State University noted that “MSSU’s international students help diversify and enrich our student body” by offering exposure to ideas and views from outside Southwest Missouri. It shouldn’t be surprising that most students at our local universities come from the surrounding areas. Having exposure to new cultures, ideas, and beliefs can be extremely positive for youth, both academically and professionally (as highlighted in our previous article!).

The relationship goes both ways, with international students getting a lot out of their experiences in the Ozarks. Both Director Stebbins and Mrs. Goin highlighted the positive interactions that international students have while staying here. Director Stebbins pointed out their access to nature and outdoor activities, while Mrs. Goin highlighted how friendly and overall welcoming students found the locals to be. Both mentioned positive experiences with friendship families that allow locals and international students to form closer bonds (consider volunteering!).

Being an international student can be an extremely rewarding experience but being in a new place with a foreign language and culture can also be stressful – even if you know it well. We at OIO hope that you consider this article when interacting with our international student neighbors in the future!


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