Int’l students contribute immeasurable benefits to US universities


The Global Observer team.

Pavithra Rajesh

American universities attract thousands of international students from across the world every year, allowing for richer global perspectives and diverse interactions on campus. However, in the news, international students are often downsized to the sizable financial contributions they make to the U.S. economy.

That minimization was seen in the coverage of the sudden international student visa changes on July 6. For example, this New York Times article said, “33,236 international students contributed $1.2 billion to Michigan’s economy in 2018.”, this Boston Globe article said, “Many depend on tuition revenue from international students, who typically pay higher tuition rates.”, and this Wall Street Journal article said, “Losing international students would mean losing crucial revenue.”

The angle these publications were trying to highlight was understandable, but it may be disheartening for international students to read about their worth solely in terms of figures. With responses from six Northeastern University professors across a variety of departments and disciplines, it was clear that the intellectual and academic contributions of international students are critical in shaping the university experience.

Many international students attend universities in the U.S. for a higher quality of education, among other reasons. However, Interim Department Chair of Art+Design Jason Donati argues that American students benefit from international students just as much as international students benefit from the American education system.

“The true opportunity is for our domestic students to learn from and with our international students,” he said. “Without which, I don’t believe we truly prepare them to be leaders in their respective disciplines and fields.” 

Northeastern prides itself on being a global university, offering a variety of study abroad programs and international co-ops that allow students to explore careers outside of the country. Jonathan Kaufman, director of the School of Journalism, used to travel all over the world as a journalist, and he believes that many students will be faced with similar prospects.

“The reality is that anybody who is a student right now…is quite certainly going to be working with, living with, travelling with people in other countries,” he said. “I think that to prepare students properly for that future, you want to start at university. You want to start where students get to know each other, and get to exchange ideas, and to prepare for their careers.” 

Not only do international students bring in different social perspectives, but their varied educational backgrounds add more perspectives in the classroom.  

“Sometimes they have been trained to think about things differently or use different mathematical or computational methods depending on their backgrounds,” said Mark Williams, chair in the Department of Physics. “…we implement teaching strategies that involve students working in groups on problems or explaining solutions to each other.” 

Antonio Ocampo-Guzman, chair of the Department of Theater, emphasized that a theater education would be incomplete without the perspectives of people from different backgrounds. 

“The art of theatre…it’s based on the study of humanity and the way that humans communicate, interact, collaborate – what is important to humans, what their stories are, what their conflicts are,” he said. “So, it is always richer when we do it with people that have different perspectives than we do.” 

There are specific course offerings at Northeastern that are designed to encourage a global purview in students, and several of these courses are benefited by the presence of international students who come to the U.S. with different lived experiences. 

“One of the most popular classes we teach is Intercultural Communication, a course that studies communication across different cultures and social groups,” said Dale Herbeck, chair of the Department of Communication Studies. “We also know from academic research that human connection is shaped by social, ethnic and religious differences.” 

Hemanth Gundavaram, a professor in the School of Law and co-director of the Immigrant Justice Clinic expressed similar appreciation for international students from his classroom experiences. 

“This is especially true in my work teaching immigration law, because our international students have been through the process and interacted with our immigration system,” said Gundavaram. “International students bring a different background and life experience that makes class discussion more vibrant and educational.”

Regardless of the differences in their fields of expertise, every professor agreed that a quality university education would be in jeopardy if not for the presence of international students. The anecdotes mentioned above, and the vast array of other benefits cannot be ignored when examining the presence of international students in American universities.