Foreign aid: The rise in international students is beneficial

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The number of international students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities is at an all-time high, and that represents enormous opportunity for the country and for Pittsburgh in particular

A survey released Tuesday by the Institute of International Education found there were 819,644 international students enrolled in the United States, 7 percent more than the previous school year and representing the third consecutive increase. In the longer term, there are 40 percent more international students in U.S. institutions than there were a decade ago.

Pennsylvania, too, saw marked increases and ranks sixth in the nation, with 37,280. Penn State had the most with 6,693, followed by the University of Pennsylvania with 5,751, Carnegie Mellon with 4,744, Drexel with 3,259 and the University of Pittsburgh's Oakland campus with 2,961, according to the group's "Open Doors" report.

The number of Americans and Pennsylvanians studying abroad also is higher -- 18,676 from the state alone in the 2011-12 academic year. Although the total of 283,332 is an all-time high, that represents just 10 percent of U.S. undergraduates. Similarly, international students make up just 4 percent of the 21 million enrolled in higher education in the United States.

Students who study in other countries -- U.S. students abroad and foreign students in this country -- benefit from immersing themselves in another culture, but international education is good for the larger community, too. Students learn to view issues and events from other perspectives, which is crucial in understanding and solving global problems.

Unfortunately, too many highly educated international students take the benefits of their learning and go home after graduation. Pittsburgh, with its numerous educational institutions, has a lot to gain if more of them could remain here, to join the labor force, start new businesses and contribute to the economy. Before that can happen, U.S. immigration law must be changed to encourage them.

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