Esther Brimmer, executive director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, leads a discussion on international student contributions to academic communities and the U.S. economy, and declining international enrollment.
FASKIANOS: Thank you, Erica, and good afternoon to all of you. Welcome to CFR's Higher Education Webinar. I am Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Thank you for being with us.
Today's meeting is on the record and the video and transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org/academic. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
We are delighted to have Esther Brimmer with us today. We have shared her bio in advance with you, so I will give you just a few highlights. Dr. Brimmer serves as the executive director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Her distinguished career includes three appointments within the U.S. Department of State, serving most recently as the assistant secretary for international organization affairs from April 2009 to 2013. Prior to joining NAFSA, Dr. Brimmer was professor of practice of international affairs at George Washington University's Elliott School. She was also an adjunct senior fellow for international institutions here at CFR, and a senior advisor at McLarty Associates. Previously, she was deputy director and director of research at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, and was a member of the faculty there.
So Dr. Brimmer, thank you very much for being with us today. NAFSA recently published a report on international student contributions to U.S. colleges and universities. I thought it would be great if you could give us an overview of the report's finding on international students' contributions to the U.S. economy, and talk a little bit about their academic and cultural value to campuses and local communities.
BRIMMER: Good afternoon. Thank you so much for inviting me to speak with you today. It is great to be with you. And I look forward to the conversation with everyone here on the webinar. I am very happy to join you to talk about the important contribution of international education and the state of the field at this moment in time.
Now, as you know, NAFSA is the world's largest professional association dedicated to international education with around ten thousand members at three thousand five hundred institutions and around one hundred and fifty countries. And we're proud to provide public policy leadership with the field and to advocate for a better world through international education. At NAFSA, we see firsthand how international education is critical to the development of strong diplomacy, global affairs, and technological and medical advancements. International students create jobs, drive research, contribute to our classrooms, strengthen national security, and become fantastic foreign policy assets around the globe. They are good for the U.S. and good for the world.
Now first, let me take a moment to talk about the benefit that international students and scholars bring to their institutions and their classrooms. They bring academic value and talent as well as cultural value to their campuses and communities. Especially for students who are unable to study abroad, the very presence of international students and scholars internationalizes a campus, creating value for their American counterparts. And indeed demand from international students for classes in, let's say science, technology, engineering, mathematics, for STEM classes, actually can help their institutions offer more and a greater variety of courses to all students. And tuition from international students can also help offset budget deficits and provide opportunity for needier students.
International students also contribute to the economic vitality of their local communities, and local businesses benefit greatly from their presence. Economic contributions, which are felt at the institutional and local level, are also felt nationally, and are dramatic when compared to other sectors within the economy. Now, as you indicated in your introduction, last month, NAFSA completed our latest analysis of the economic value of international students and their families. The more than one million international students who studied in United States colleges and universities contributed $38.7 billion and supported nearly 416,000 jobs during the 2019–20 academic year. This is a substantial contribution, considering that international students only make up 5.5 percent of the overall enrollment in U.S. higher education. And indeed, the U.S. Commerce Department currently ranks education as the sixth largest service export of the United States. You can get more data on that and the data that underpins those figures at NAFSA.org/economicvalue. And you can go in and you can actually go examine by your state, by your congressional district, and we also provide an institution-by-institution breakdown, as well. So people on the webinar can go check their own states if they would like to do so.
Now, disturbingly, this year marks the first time that our dollar and jobs calculation has declined in the over twenty years that we have been conducting this work. The dollar amount declined 4.4 percent and the number of jobs declined 9.2 percent from last year. We also calculate that the economic value of international students attending U.S. community colleges for the 2019–20 year and just for community colleges, that is about seventy-nine thousand international students, and they contribute $2.3 billion that supported twelve thousand jobs. But these amounts also declined from last year by 9.8 percent and 13.4 percent, respectively. Now, certainly, the COVID-19 crisis of course impacted these economic figures. And while the pandemic was a huge part of the decline, it was only part of the loss. We estimate that the dollar impact of COVID-19 on the contribution of international students during the last academic year was nearly $1.2 billion.
The analysis we complete annually is based on an enrollment report called Open Doors, which is funded by the U.S. State Department and conducted by the Institute for International Education (IIE). It is a robust and reliable report that relies on figures from the 2019–20 year. Understandably, we are all interested in how the enrollment has been affected this fall. Not surprisingly, the enrollment decline has continued. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center recently reported that as of mid-October, international undergraduate enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities was down nearly 15 percent and international graduate enrollment was down 8 percent.
IIE also completes an annual enrollment snapshot survey. The declines evident in this survey are alarming. This fall, overall international student enrollment fell 16 percent, with new international student enrollment falling 43 percent. Roughly half of all the new international students are outside the United States. So if the 43 percent figure falls to 72 percent, when one limits the new international enrollments to only those who are physically in the country now. And we're clearly experiencing a time of unprecedented challenge in international education and the broader field of higher education. Yet we know that international students continue to be a major source of value to the U.S. economy, and we must promote policies that reinvigorate international student mobility.
A recent piece in Foreign Affairs—I definitely want to cite Foreign Affairs here. As you know, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, urges the incoming Biden administration to quote, "pursue foreign policy initiatives that can quickly highlight the return of American expertise and competence," end quote. She argues for three specific areas. One of these is an effort to quote, "again, make its universities the most attractive to foreign talent," end quote. Embracing international education is a means to demonstrate the United States is ready to lead once again and to reenter the world stage. It is sound U.S. policy, and it advances outcomes indirectly associated with academic leadership. In fact, one of the companies readying a vaccine for the coronavirus is led by a former international student and another by an immigrant to the United States.
NAFSA agrees that the incoming Biden administration should take immediate steps to make the nation more welcoming to international talent. Reversing harmful Trump administration regulations and executive orders, like the proposal to do away with duration of status for students and the travel ban, must be immediate actions. The administration should also jumpstart a strategy to proactively recruit international students, gain market share, and increase the diversity of countries sending students to the United States. Power, in fact, goes even further, arguing that quote, "Biden could start by delivering a major speech announcing that his administration is joining with American universities to again welcome international students, making it clear that they are assets rather than threats," end quote.
As with many sectors of the economy, education and international education will only return to normalcy when COVID-19 transmission is brought under control and people feel safe traveling. Yet much harm has been done to the international education sector during the time of the Trump administration, even before COVID. Declines in new international student enrollment reached nearly 11 percent over the three academic years preceding the pandemic, while leaders expressed xenophobic rhetoric and pushed forward harmful policies. While we must be prepared for the current administration to push forward with last minute regulatory policies, I would like to close on a hopeful note.
We are happy to hear recent good news from the courts. On Monday, November 30, the federal district court in Washington, DC, granted summary judgment in a case that allows an important experiential learning program, optional practical training, known as OPT, to continue. NAFSA encouraged institutions to sign on to the abacus brief that was filed on behalf of institutions in this case. Then on Tuesday, December 1, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California set aside both the Department of Labor and Department of Homeland Security interim final rules altering the H-1B visa program. The court found that the agencies did not have just cause to skip the statutory required notice and the comment period and to issue interim final rules that were immediately implementable. So that's important news for the courts.
In closing, I would like to say that international students and scholars make an important contribution to the United States and the world. And turning towards revitalizing that important global connection will be important, good next step for the next administration. Thank you so much for this opportunity. And I look forward to our conversation.
FASKIANOS: Thank you so much. That was a terrific overview and we will have to delve into your report for the specifics with the tracker. That is really fantastic. Let us go now to all of you. If you want to click on the participants icon at the bottom of your screen and raise your hand there and I will recognize you, or else you can, if you are on an e-tablet, click on the "More" button on the upper right hand corner and you can raise your hand there. And if you want, you can also just type a question in the Q&A box. If you could please tell us what your affiliation is to give us some context, that would be great. I am going to take the first question from Teddy Samy.
Q: Hi, can you hear me?
FASKIANOS: We can.
Q: Okay, great. So I am Teddy Samy, I am the director of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. And so we have had a lot of the issues that you talk about resonate with us, certainly. And one of the challenges we've always had is to bring more international students to our program. And that's largely a funding issue. It has nothing to do with students not wanting to come here. In fact, we get a lot of applicants, but it's surprisingly quite expensive for them to come, and so on. So I was wondering whether you've had a chance to reflect a little bit on what COVID-19 might mean for the inflow of international students, because one of the things that universities are talking a lot about is perhaps thinking more about how to deliver online programs where students may not necessarily have to come to the United States or Canada or the Western world to get an education. Can you tell us a little bit about this?
BRIMMER: Indeed. Well first, thank you for your question. Of course, we will be continuing to study and learn from the impact of COVID-19, both immediately and over the long term. So you always want to be humble and recognize that we will learn in the future some things we may not yet see. But I can share with you some of the things we do see at this point.
One of them is the integration of virtual learning into existing programs. So that, indeed, one aspect is to see efforts by institutions to use virtual learning to enable, let's say, two professors in two different countries to bring their students together and to have a virtual interchange and virtual courses together even though they're not able to meet together. It is interesting to note that particularly institutions that already had existing partnerships with others institutions around the world have made a rapid pivot to this sort of activity. Now, it is institutions that had preexisting relationships of some form, have sometimes turned to those to form the basis for incorporating virtual learning into their classrooms. So we see that in terms of classroom use, and that may continue. It may be, as say, supplementing or complementary to the in-person experience. Because I think after months of not seeing friends and colleagues, we realize we recognize the importance of in-person experiential learning, being in real life in a real place, and the fundamental nature of human interaction. But that said, using virtual space can, for example, help in preparations before studying abroad. Before students come into a classroom, before they come into the country, being able to use the exchange of information before and after an experience is important.
Another is to make international experience as available for those students who could not travel in the first place. I do not know the figures for Canada, but I will say in the United States, only about 10 percent of undergraduate students are able to have an in-person education abroad experience. So even before COVID, we wanted to work on ways to expand access to an international experience. And indeed, the ability to bring in another classroom virtually could be used to help create international experiences for the many students who will never be able to travel abroad.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I am going to take the next question from David Oxtoby, president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
BRIMMER: President Oxtoby, it is very nice to hear from you.
Q: Nice to see you, Esther.
BRIMMER: President Oxtoby was a president of my alma mater, Pomona College.
BRIMMER: After I was there, I was there in the last century. (Laughs.)
Q: We got to know each other then. It is very nice to see you and the great work that you are doing. I wondered if you could comment about your thoughts, and thoughts at NAFSA, about the sensitive political question regarding China, and some of the proposed restrictions on what students might be allowed to come from China, what they might be allowed to study, and so forth. Any thoughts about that?
BRIMMER: Thank you for your question, and indeed it is one of the great questions of our time. The evolving relationship between the United States and China is one of the great international issues and the return of China to the global stage, again, is one of the world historical changes. The continued evolution of the United States as a multiethnic, dynamic society is also one of the great world historical changes that continues. So there's some really epic issues here.
That said, one of the most important aspects where these changing relationships are playing out is in the educational space, because of the relationship between the United States and China on education. First, we are in knowledge economies, and the ability to educate and train is fundamental to being able to succeed in the future. Also, as many of you know, Chinese students and scholars make up the largest single group of international students and scholars in the United States. Of the roughly one million international students in the United States, 50 percent are from China and India. About 370,000 or so are from China, so it is the largest single group. That said, Chinese students and scholars make important contributions to classrooms and to research just as students and scholars from around the world to do.
That said, you are seeing major competition in knowledge-based areas and real concerns about issues related to research and both the openness of research and also, the effect of the Chinese coming on campuses through some of the student associations. There's the controversy of the Confucius institutes, all of which play into a question about how one addresses important national security concerns related to research, related to concerns about whether there's espionage involved in research, these are very serious issues. But that said, the best way forward is really that continued work between the academic community and the U.S. federal government precisely because their long standing ways of managing classified information for the important research that's handled on campuses. And campuses themselves want to have vital intellectual environments and also want to be part of the solution. So I think it's important that we really look carefully at what's actually the issue, not to paint all students and scholars as threats, but rather to really use really thoughtful and analytical understanding of where the actual concern is. Faculty members, for example, need to abide by their own rules about, let's say, reporting funding from other sources.
I would flag that, again, the importance of really being targeted and focused in really understanding the nature of research is important because some of the proposals, such as the idea of trying to ban all research from everybody who has some contact, let's say, with the Chinese Communist Party, how that's defined is important, because there again, you may find there are in a society that is very statist, that there may be family members who are caught up in that. So one has to be targeted, and this is where legislators, regulators, and leaders of institutions really need to drill down. And so I encourage greater dialogue amongst the different parties, rather than policy that may be planned within regulatory issues without really understanding the academic community.
FASKIANOS: Great, thank you. Let's go to Masoud Kavoossi. He has written in the Q&A box, "Do you feel universities are more open to international graduate students from countries targeted specifically by the current administration, China, Iran, etc.?" And he is—sorry, I just want to give his affiliation—he's a professor at Howard University.
BRIMMER: Thank you. Thank you for your question. And indeed, I think that, of course, there are thousands of colleges and universities in the United States, and so they take a variety of views. But I will say that I think there's a sense that the exchange of knowledge is important for international understanding and for the advancing of human wellbeing. Some of these international consortia that are working on developing the vaccines are great examples, good examples of this. And so actually, I think many educators are aware of the benefits of greater educational cooperation, particularly from countries that may be of human rights concerns or have other issues which create foreign policy challenges.
But that said, that recognizing that actually, some of the ways of building better understanding, of understanding societies better, is precisely through education. Having less contact, not learning languages, does not help us understand what is going on in other countries any better. Now the use of sanctions and other measures are important foreign policy tools, but again, they should be targeted, focused, designed for purpose. The original sweeping travel bans that were launched in 2017 were not targeted and focused for purpose. So that's where again, the foreign policy community and the leading architects and implementers of foreign policy need to say what's actually objective and really be targeted in their actions, such that you don't undermine the greater cooperation that can allow for more openness and ideas in more societies.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I am going to go next to Annelise Riles, if you could unmute yourself.
Q: Hi, Esther, nice to see you again. I am Annelise Riles, I am associate provost for global affairs at Northwestern University. I have a very technical, in the weeds question for you and a big picture question. So the technical question is one that is obviously of great importance to all of us in the universities right now, which is whether the INS rules that we've had in the fall that have allowed international students to remain in the country, even though their classes are online will continue into the spring. And I'd like to know whether you have any information or ideas about that, because it's critical for us.
And then the big picture question is about universities as emerging actors in global governance. I mean, it seems to me that with the U.S. and some other nations sort of retreating from multilateralism and the global stage over the last few years, universities have really stepped in and filled the gap in a number of ways, through cooperation around issues like environmental sustainability, innovation, peace and security, and so on. And now with what looks like something of a return to multilateralism in the United States, I'm wondering what your vision is for us as a collective global actor going forward. Thank you.
BRIMMER: Oh, thank you for both questions. First, good to hear from you, too. Of course, Northwestern is a very big actor in international education. On the first question, and just to share with the majority of us, the question is we are all waiting to see whether the dispensation allowing international students to develop online education will be continued. We are tracking this issue. I have no immediate new updates, but that is definitely one of the things that we are raising, because it's absolutely crucial that it be extended and that it's imminent. So we will be—as soon as we have useful information to share—we will post that on our website. We keep regulatory updates, because we know institutions need to know that soon and students need to know that soon. But I don't have a new update as of Tuesday morning for you, because these things do move [inaudible]. But believe me, that is definitely on our radar.
On your larger question, indeed, universities are important aspects for global governance, because many of the issues do have a scientific underpinning. And universities are the centers for vital research and the cooperation among them is crucial to come up with the solutions that then the political community can then build upon. And you've cited two great areas. One is climate change. And the questions of understanding climate change, the worldwide research on this area is underpinned by thousands of experts working on these issues and giving us the scientific grounding that then, again, diplomats and policymakers can build on.
The other is medical. And we would have said this before, but it's even clearer very much as we look at, for example, the understanding of the COVID virus, understanding this new virus. And in both of those, universities are central to creating the body of knowledge that then diplomats build off of. And how does that happen? So for example, as we know, the body of knowledge and then looking at actions by the World Health Organization, looking at the objectives are built, again, off understanding scientific knowledge. One of the first ones will be on the sharing of the vaccine issue, where you have both the intersection of the policy point of view, and having the United States maybe participate in that would be a development, and what is needed for actually to have global distribution of vaccines.
So that interplay between scientific knowledge and policy is so important. And I would hope that as we look towards a new administration, thinking about how it approaches these issues, having that scientific grounding, is crucial. And so a vision for universities is to be at the table, to be part of the advisory community that helps leaders to make those choices and for universities to be doing that cutting edge research that's asking the next question, the question after that, that then policymakers can draw on. I will say, when I was in government, I was thrilled to be assistant secretary for international organizations, because world health does come under that portion of the State Department. And it was great to be able to go—I actually did go to Atlanta while I was assistant secretary because we wanted to go talk to CDC, and hear from experts about some of the issues that we were addressing in global fora. So understanding and being the channel for expertise and bringing that knowledge to the policymaking community is a great role for colleges and universities in the United States and around the world.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I am going to go next to Jim Harrington, who is at Nashua Community College. He wrote his question, but Jim, I want to give you the opportunity to ask it yourself as I think it would be clearer coming orally.
Q: Thank you very much, Irina. What I am referring to here is the place of international students and the long immigration history of the United States. Not all of these immigrants were students of course. But I'm referencing—you mentioned New Hampshire—I'm referencing skilled workers that were brought into the country in the 1820s to work in textile mills, and actually to build the machines to steal the intellectual capital of the British and put them to work here in our textile industries. The same thing happened in the 1890s with German steel workers that U.S. firms brought to this country at their expense. And we continue to do that. But this intellectual tradition seems to me to be a part of that in a new age. Okay, clearly, with all of the virtual education we had, and would you not? That is the question, would you not place this international student policy in that same category of economic and immigration policy?
BRIMMER: I would say there may be some elements that are similar and some elements that are different. And again, I have not done the same research on the nineteenth century analogies to be able to make sure that exactly I'm following the same path that you identify, but I would maybe suggest some areas of similarity and some areas of difference.
Some areas of similarity, indeed, is recognizing that having skilled people come into the United States is of great benefit to the economy. Having people come as students, or come not as students, but who come and bring their energy and talents and wanting to contribute them to the society, that is beneficial. And indeed, learning from innovations around the world is beneficial to the country as a whole. So in that sense, there is a continuity in the idea that bringing in talented people who are maybe aware of new processes, or new ways of doing things, or the intersection of those people with people here, has created a rich environment both culturally, as well economic. So there is a longer tradition there.
But I would say one of the interesting areas is the exchange as well. Such that, because of modern travel and modern communications, immigrants no longer have to, let's say, cut themselves off from their home countries as they might have done one hundred and fifty years ago, two hundred years ago. So that means that you can sometimes have benefits for the United States and for home countries, as well. So that you may have international students who set up a business in the United States and set up a business in their home country. So that you are able to have—it is less of a brain drain and more of regenerating and generating connections on both sides of that relationship. So the international students and scholars may serve as bridges to prosperity both home and away.
FASKIANOS: Thank you, I am going to take the next question from John Murray, who is director of international engagement at Hesston College in Kansas.
Q: Hello, good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be on this call, and thank you for your work at NAFSA. We are certainly among the colleges who benefit greatly from international students. Our current president of our college is a former international student, as is the current chair of our board of directors. Globalization is indeed an important part, and obviously, COVID has impacted us greatly.
Before COVID hit, and this is anecdotal rather than data driven, but we have then from the data we have observed an increase in students in other countries, Canada, Australia, China. We had an experience with two Ethiopian students who had committed to come to Hesston College, and then de-committed because they were offered full-ride scholarships to a university in China. And I'm wondering about what kind of policies we might look at. Obviously, we are able to provide full-ride scholarships, but what policies might be available to keep our universities financially competitive with colleges and universities from around the world? Because indeed, we do want to keep the brain/creative power coming this direction. And we were beneficiaries of a CAST program a number of years ago, and that was a government policy. So just wondering about your comments about policies and things we could advocate for in that way.
BRIMMER: Great, thank you for your question. Because, indeed, many countries also recognize the benefit of having international students and have developed national strategies to encourage international students to come. So our good friends in Canada and Australia and elsewhere have seen increases in the number of international students in 2018-19, before COVID. And so that is important because countries have said, we want to be sure to have international students. You saw the United Kingdom actually change a policy, they had their equivalent of OPT in the UK, which was their post-graduation employment, which they had discontinued and reinstated because they realized it was an important draw for international students and they want to have international students and they are looking at increasing the number of international students.
So, indeed, some of the things that would be beneficial, first would be for things to be assessed by incoming administration, would be to actually have a national strategy on international education. As I say, it is already the sixth largest service export of the United States. We handle it in several different departments. So it would be actually really beneficial, for example, to either have at the State Department or at the White House, a coordinating team, a mechanism, to bring together the different departments. Whether it's the State Department, which works through the embassies on really getting the word out and getting information out about coming to the United States to study, but also the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, other aspects that are all part of helping support having international students here. That would be really helpful.
Another area would be to encourage greater diversity in sending countries, and, indeed, there have been initiatives in the past that—actually, back when he was vice president—Biden supported the 100,000 Strong in the Americas and other aspects that encourage greater exchange with students. So we would see coming up with some sort of national strategy would be helpful in terms of bringing together the wide resources of the federal government to help encourage international students here.
And in the short term, we recognize that the higher education sector has been profoundly impacted by COVID, as well. And we would hope to see that in whatever stimulus bill may be moving forward, that there's an element for higher education, which indirectly will also help those who are on campus would include international students, as well as obviously American students and administrators and others. So dealing with the immediate but also really seeing this as a holistic policy of the United States would be an important development for the future.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. The next question is written, it comes from Pamela Waldron-Moore. "Thank you for sharing U.S. perspectives on international education. As a former international student, I am happy to learn that the United States acknowledges the benefits of IE. I'm currently professor of international and comparative studies at an HBCU and wonder if there's an opportunity for funding in the area of internationalizing the curricula at small institutions, as well as promoting, through access to data, the expansion of education in global interest areas, such as climate change, AI, knowledge production, etc." She is at Xavier University and she is the chair of the political science department. So over to you.
BRIMMER: Great, thank you. Thank you for your question. And there may be some various different resources that might be relevant, and examples that might be useful. Indeed, while earlier I was talking about our research in big research universities, there are many different ways international students and scholars contribute to the academic life of institutions of a variety of sizes. And so one of the areas I will flag is, where there's some additional resources on our website that might be useful for you, is something called the assignment award named for Senator Paul Simon, who was a longtime advocate of international education. Each year, NAFSA gives out peer-reviewed selected awards for internationalizing the campus, both comprehensive for across the board internationalization, and spotlight awards for specific programs. And we've given those to a wide variety of institutions, large and small, community colleges to big research universities. Each year, we put out a publication that details what they did. So you can actually see from different institutions saying how did they take a particular program at an institution that might be like mine and say, what examples can I draw from that? Because from what we've seen is that institutions which have the institutional commitment, can actually make choices that can help support greater international access, and not all of them necessarily draw large research. Those are some specific examples. We have been publishing it for eighteen years, so you can go back and look at examples that might specifically be helpful.
Another area, as you indicated, is the role of trying to—as we all do as academics—ask questions. And so I'll say another resource that is not out yet but coming, is one that I'll say for NAFSA, we have our NAFSA fellows, and the current NAFSA fellows that just started—they run for eighteen months—will be looking at sustainability, and sustainability in climate change and international education. And so we try to say with that discrete program, how can we help generate some working papers that might be useful for the community, as well. So those are two resources from NAFSA that are up on that website. But I think that looking at, drawing on these examples because a variety of institutions as they say of many different sizes have been able to create space for international programs and opportunities for their students and scholars.
FASKIANOS: Great. I am going to take a follow-up question from Daniel Kristo, who is assistant dean of graduate enrollment management at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. "As a follow-up, has NAFSA explored funding incentives, including government subsidy, and perhaps advocate for its U.S. university members to entertain universal international graduate student tuition discount, especially since international students do not qualify for FAFSA and need U.S. citizen cosigners for private U.S. loans.
BRIMMER: Indeed, international students do not qualify for FAFSA, in particular. While we have advocated for greater opportunities and support for international education, funding for international education, and supporting international students that come to the United States, we have not advocated for that particular program, but in our Connecting Our World, [inaudible] we talk about some of the specific programs to help greater funding for international students. And when we were looking at the support, again, for the impact of the pandemic, we also wanted to be sure that international students and scholars were not inadvertently excluded from support on campuses. And as you know, many colleges and universities in the U.S. actually went into their own pockets to support international students, especially in the spring when the virus first hit, campuses closed, people weren't able to go home. And at that point by the month of April, just the month of April, we did a survey and at that point, institutions had spent something like $638 million of their own money to support international students and scholars. So institutions need more support to help even beyond the crisis period.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I am going to take the next question from Karthika Sasikumar, professor at San Jose State University. And the question is—and I thought, Esther, before we started, you talked about the book that NAFSA has just released on social justice and international education, so this ties with that. "Do you find that the current discussion of diversity in U.S. higher education takes note of the contributions of international students?" So maybe you can tell us about that book and tie it in.
BRIMMER: Thank you. Thank you for the question. Indeed, it is exciting in a moment of great social questioning, which is what actually leads to greater justice, to see that educators are very much part of this discussion. As Irina has mentioned, NAFSA has a new book out on social justice and international education. It is a book, there are over twenty-five authors, and it brings together both practitioners and scholars. It has been in the works for the past couple of years, and we brought it out this year, but it tries to look at how we incorporate questions of social justice into international education in our work as educators. It includes everything from theories of teaching to understanding cross-cultural dialogue to practical issues of designing programs for writing and different things. So there is a rich mix of things in the book, because we think that international educators have a contribution to make, we've long said they have a contribution to make to greater international understanding and social understanding. Those are precisely the questions and the skills we need now, to be able to talk about how we talk to each other. How do we listen to each other? And the skills we have developed with bringing together international students is also helpful on campus.
We also see really interesting developments. So we see, for example, we see chief diversity officers and chief international officers begin to realize that they may have things to say to each other. There may be programs they want to do together when they are thinking about making campuses welcoming places for international students and U.S. students. So I think international educators really bring real skills to that, some of the materials we have been publishing we want to bring to that discussion. It is one of the great conversations and as educators, we are in the middle of it.
FASKIANOS: Fantastic. All right. I am going to go next to Elsa Dias who has written a question. She is a professor at Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado. She started her adventure in higher education as an international student, and then in graduate school she represented graduate students in the department. She has seen the effects of this administration on international students and seeing the alienation of this group. "How can universities and community colleges educate their respective campuses on the contribution of these individuals?"
BRIMMER: Thank you for the question. It sounds like I should be asking you that question based on your experiences, as well. But just some thoughts, some of things that you can see on campuses, and indeed, some of the Simon award winners I mentioned earlier are examples of doing exactly that. So that's a source for additional examples. But some of the things relate to within departments, looking for opportunities to bring international students' experiences into discussions, into planning seminars to bring their voices directly into some of the classroom discussions. But also on campus, finding ways for international students to more visibly demonstrate their contributions to the local community.
So sometimes, it is the ability to talk about their own countries in campus activities, to be able to help organize and contribute to cultural and other activities on campus, and to interact with the community, being able to work with local business leaders about the contribution of international students, as consumers but also as people who enrich the community. We see examples of international students and scholars, for example, who are volunteering in local schools because of their language skills, and finding ways where students may be interacting more with local communities, as well. And then inviting in communities who might not otherwise go to the international house to be able to help take the international students out around the campus to make sure that they're getting to know students around the campus. These are all parts of elements that might be useful. But as I said, our Simon award winners have a lot of really specific examples about what they've done on their own campuses.
FASKIANOS: Next question comes from Tom Roehl, professor of international business at Western Washington University. "Our mostly undergraduate university emphasizes six-month exchanges of students with partner universities, which allows for lower-cost study both ways. It gives an opportunity to increase international student levels in schools not on the radar school of applicants and gives an option to establish and deepen institutional relationships. So, what would you think about it? Can there be a national policy to make this strategy more effective for students in a similar situation?"
BRIMMER: Thank you for your question. And indeed, you've identified one of the important trends, which is the greater use of partnerships. Indeed, one of the other books NAFSA has published is actually on partnerships in international education that came out earlier this year. Indeed, because we are seeing examples like the one you describe, where two institutions establish a longer-term relationship so that students go between the institutions for a more extended period of time, year after year after year, so that they're able to build longer-term relationships. And indeed, many institutions have found that to be a productive model. That could be a component of a larger national strategy. It may not fit all institutions, but it can provide a real sense of stability and building a relationship for many institutions. And this point you raised about being able to have education abroad experiences for, let's say, a full semester, is a great benefit. We recognize many students are not able to take that amount of time, but finding ways to make it more possible, given the responsibilities students may be carrying at home, is an attractive model, again, providing that longer-term ability to stay more than a few weeks. And again, that can be difficult, but sometimes those partnerships can provide the structure that makes it accessible for more students.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question comes from Mercedes Ponce, assistant vice president for academic planning and accountability at Florida International University. "What are your thoughts on moving the discourse toward creating a community of lifelong learners and building bridges to prosperity, as you mentioned, rather than focusing strictly on recruitment of international students?"
BRIMMER: Thank you for your question. Indeed, Florida International University is very active in the internationalization space and you publish a lot on that area as well, so I appreciate the question and your perspective. One of the exciting things I think that we often see from international students and scholars is that you become, your experience, studying in another country, creates a lifelong interest in that country. And one of the skills that we talk about when we talk about international education includes a curiosity, a willingness to deal with the uncertain and the unknown, which can be part of an attitude towards life. And that may lead you to future opportunities, looking for future opportunities. And so looking at how one can create more opportunities, even in the workplace, for these international students is really interesting. And some of you on this call are probably on the forefront of working on this, but we do see interesting examples of employers who are working with educational institutions to both have their workforce trained, but also to create opportunities. And some of them are these international opportunities that make them able to work, let's say, with an international company that's investing in the U.S. International education can create those habits of mind of curiosity that really stand you in good status for seeing life is unpredictable, and being able to deal with the uncertain is a skill we're all having to acquire if we don't already have it.
FASKIANOS: I have a follow up on that. Are you at NAFSA working on connecting international educators with workforce development? Specifically, forging the partnerships with the private sector, so that those skills can be brought to the fore.
BRIMMER: Indeed, it is really interesting. There is a real natural link between people in higher education and those who hope to employ people who come out with the skills in higher education. Indeed, one of our other reports that we brought out earlier this year was a project jointly with an organization called Emsi and NAFSA, which actually looks at global workforce development. And NAFSA has worked on this issue in different ways, but in this latest report, we worked with Emsi, which was able to examine—and, again, use big data here—examine both job applications and job requirements. It is what employers were asking for and what people were putting on their resumes and go through large amounts of data on this. And what was fascinating to see was that employers were looking for the sorts of skills that we also match with international education, looking for the critical decision-making skills, understanding of the larger world, the sorts of things that people need for long-term management in senior positions. And so we are quite interested in this relationship between the business community, both large and small, and working with educators. This report, which just came out a couple months ago, is another example to contribute to that dialogue.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Any other questions? I think you covered so much ground, Esther. I wonder if you could just take this opportunity to leave us with some closing thoughts. And maybe leave us on an optimistic note, too. (Laughs.)
BRIMMER: Yes, yes. First off, I will borrow this from our longtime colleague who reminded us that the modern university of the past on hundred and fifty years, or the university of the past thousand years, that universities are some of the great human institutions that have survived for centuries. And that having centers of learning has been crucial for societies overcoming change. And so we will have a crucial role to play in rebuilding after the pandemic, but also on these great questions I talked about earlier, about great countries figuring out of their relationship to each other, tackling the big issues, whether it's climate change or the rise of urban populations, the urbanization of the human species, learning how we get along, the fundamental philosophical questions of life.
Institutions of higher education are fundamental to answering all of those. And so I think what I'm finding exciting is hopefully now we're seeing a return to respect for knowledge, expertise, and learning. We are part of the solution. The educational community is crucial to advancing social justice and human wellbeing and we are needed now more than ever. So while on a daily basis, sometimes we feel we are grappling with such life and death issues, that it's so hard on a daily basis dealing with the pandemic, but recognizing that what we do is crucial to the future. That is my final thought.
FASKIANOS: That is a fantastic thought on which for us to end. Thank you so much, Dr. Brimmer, it has been great to have you with us. We appreciate everything you are doing both at NAFSA and what you do in government service. So, thank you. We circulated in advance of this webinar the link to your report. So I hope you all—I commend it to all of you. There are obviously so many amazing resources on NAFSA's website at NAFSA.org. So you should look for the reports and books that Dr. Brimmer referenced and we will also send a follow-up note with links, as well.
You can follow her on Twitter @EstheratNAFSA, so I encourage you to do so. Also follow us @CFR_Academic on Twitter and please continue to come to CFR.org, ThinkGlobalHealth.org, and ForeignAffairs.com for resources and direct your students there. I hope you all are having a good end of semester such as it is, and we hope that you are able to enjoy the holidays safely. And we look forward to reconvening in 2021. We will be circulating—we will be reconvening in the new year with a new slate of topics. So happy holidays and, Esther, thank you again.
BRIMMER: Thank you.