March 26, 2015
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By Diane Peters-Nguyen
Apr 20, 2014
As the legislative session prepares to enter its final decision-making phase, particularly looking at where investments can be made to secure future economic development and diversification, our legislators would do well to consider the state Department of Business, Economic and Tourism (DBEDT)’s initiative to ramp up foreign student recruitment at Hawaii’s educational institutions.
Hawaii is late to the game; countries that traditionally export college bound students have begun to establish their own domestic educational capabilities in a bid to keep these students and the money they spend on housing, food, transportation, books and more circulating in their own economies.
On the U.S. mainland, colleges have raced to develop strategies to attract the flood of students coming from overseas. The Institute of International Education published data showing that in the four-year period leading up to 2011, Chinese undergraduate student enrollment jumped from 10,000 to 57,000, and Chinese students now make up close to a quarter of all international students in the country.
The National Association of International Educators estimates that the benefit of foreign students studying in the U.S. amounts to some $23 billion. In Hawaii, each international student spends close to $25,000 per year on average, and for every two international students a new job is created here.
Increased mobility and a willingness of young people to cross borders, coupled with a rising middle class, fuel this growth and the biggest wave is now coming for bachelor’s degrees rather than advanced degrees.
Beyond the purely economic boon international students represent, they benefit our local college classrooms by globalizing and diversifying perspectives across our campuses. Hawaii students profit from the exposure to the international students without having to travel abroad them- selves.
Competition for foreign students has intensified. Even while mainland institutions have experienced dramatic enrollment increases (45 percent over the last five years), Hawaii has lost out with a reduction of 20 percent over the same period, according to DBEDT figures. The loss of international students in Hawaii equates to a staggering $302 million lost in the last five years from tuition, housing and other expenses these students incur while studying in Hawaii.
DBEDT seeks to reverse this dire trend, building upon our well-known brand in Asia and the success of recent meetings such as the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders meeting here in 2011. Not only do our institutions here in the islands offer high-quality, rigorous academic programs, we are a familiar, family friendly, safe destination with proximity to the biggest student-exporting countries.
In Asia, where relationships drive business partnerships, a long-term commitment is necessary. Small institutions, such as Chaminade, lack the means to consistently pursue international recruitment strategies over longer periods; this is where DBEDT can assist with offices in Taiwan, Beijing and elsewhere in Asia.
States that have taken a coordinated approach toward attracting foreign students find a much higher return on investment.
Clearly it is time to push “Study Hawaii” and support this much-needed initiative.