International Students and the American Legacy
By Dr. Kent J. Ingle
President, Southeastern University
One of the hallmarks of American higher education is the unique combination of openness to all, protection of new ideas and emphasis on critical thinking. These core values help build a robust and dynamic academic system in the world and made America a leader in an already-established international community. International students and scholars have been instrumental to this academic achievement, adding to the collective fabric of America with their culture, perspectives and dedication to achievement.
Unfortunately, recent actions at the highest level of the U.S. government have caused prospective international students to doubt our commitment to opportunity for all—a key ideal present at our nation’s founding. These actions run counter to the indisputable truth that just as international students benefit from participating in our academic institutions, so do our communities and campuses benefit from welcoming international students into our classroom.
At Southeastern University alone, we pride ourselves in welcoming students from around the world. In the 2017–18 academic year, we had over 94 students from a total of 33 countries, with the highest numbers from the Bahamas, Canada, Peru, and Nigeria. Three of Southeastern’s current students from Brazil play for the Lakeland Tropics soccer team. Many of our international students have stayed in the U.S. and have gone on to be teachers, coaches, and serve in various roles in higher education.
Although international students comprise only 5 percent of U.S. college enrollment, they contribute nearly $37 billion annually to our economy and support more than 450,000 jobs.
America’s international students are also some of our best innovators. Innovation has been the driver of America’s economic strength and stability throughout history. Our continual drive to progress enhances our national security, enriches our quality of life and opens doors of opportunity for millions here at home and around the world.
Our recent history shows that international students and immigrants help move that legacy forward. Nearly one-quarter of the leaders of start-up companies valued at $1 billion or more first came to America as an international student. In 2016, all six American winners of the Nobel Prize had been international students at U.S. colleges, and since 2000, nearly 40 percent of Nobel prizes in chemistry, medicine and physics have been won by American immigrants.
The contribution from immigrants in the Lakeland area alone is significant. According to the New American Economy, nearly 10 percent of the Lakeland Metro Area population is immigrants, with a spending power of $1 billion. In 2014, immigrants paid over $307.6 million in taxes. The number of entrepreneurs surpasses 4,000. From the number of international students that have attended schools in the Tampa and Orlando area, the Pew Research Center reports that more than 65 percent chose to stay in the area
These statistics are an impressive demonstration of how international students directly benefit the United States, but they by no means encompass the full scope of ways international students impact our nation for the better. Often less tangible but just as important are the diverse perspectives these individuals share with their academic and social communities—enriching the lives of their fellow students and faculty and contributing to the strength of the institutions they attend.
International students put a human face on the world beyond our borders. Through daily interactions with their peers, they share a discipline and dedication to learning, and they develop the kind of mutual understanding that can only come from shared experiences. International students learn about the best of America by studying side-by-side with our nation’s young people—and that’s what makes international education the perfect incubator for diplomacy.
By welcoming international students to our campuses, we are creating opportunities to tell the American story to the world—through the eyes and experiences of young people learning, living and growing together, unfiltered by media, supported by real relationships and deeply authentic.
If anything, international students are the best national security investment we can make because, as the record shows, they provide enormous benefits to our country, economy and society. Their presence makes America stronger, smarter and better in the eyes of the world; they increase understanding, on a personal level.
Despite this fact, our immigration system and the unwelcoming message some of our political leaders are sending to the world make it very difficult for international students to come to the United States. International students are listening to the damaging rhetoric coming from a few of our nation’s most prominent political leaders, and they are choosing to study elsewhere. That should worry anyone who takes pride in the strong legacy of innovation, security, opportunity and education which America has long advanced.
If our colleges and universities exist to further knowledge and spread the values of freedom of expression and innovative thinking that has led to the most astonishing innovation in the world, then what better place for international students—future ambassadors and global leaders—than the United States.