Even though the economic downturn is expected to affect foreign enrollment in September, international applications to graduate programs are up by 7 percent, says Peggy Blumenthal, vice president for educational services at the Institute of International Education (IIE) in New York.
International students may account for less than 4 percent of all enrollment, but their contribution to the US is disproportionately large. In 2009-10 they contributed $18 billion to the economy, according to estimates by the National Association of International Educators. That's the equivalent of 60 percent of US Department of Education spending on higher education in 2008, and a little more than it spent on student financial aid.
More significant still is foreign students' contribution to technological innovation and sciences: Close to 70 percent of all engineering PhDs granted in 2006 went to foreign-born students, as did more than half the doctoral degrees in the physical sciences, reports the National Science Foundation.
This means that most of the brainy heads in educational institutions bent over lab equipment, designing complex computer programs, or teaching undergraduates came to the US from abroad.
Nor does their impact end when they don cap and gown: Foreign-born entrepreneurs founded or cofounded more than half the engineering and technology companies that sprouted in Silicon Valley between 1995 and 2005, according to a Duke University report. Nationwide, they were sole founders or key partners in a quarter of these kinds of companies, producing $52 billion in sales and employing 450,000 workers in 2005.