International students help spur economy, survey finds

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Hawaii’s international students are a boon to the state’s economy, a newly released report shows, and a good portion of them reside in East Hawaii.

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Hawaii’s international students are a boon to the state’s economy, a newly released report shows, and a good portion of them reside in East Hawaii.

Results from the 2016 Hawaii International Education Survey show foreign students spent $301.9 million in the 2015-16 school year on living expenses, tuition and fees. Those students contributed $649 million to the state’s total economic output — generating $43 million in state taxes — and created $256 million in household earnings, according to the survey. Spending by international students helped support 7,590 jobs statewide.

Nearly 8 percent of University of Hawaii at Hilo students enrolled in fall 2015 came from other countries — one of the highest percentages of international students in the state.

“There’s obviously a really significant economic benefit to international students studying in Hawaii in terms of contributing to tuition revenue, supporting local businesses and renting apartments,” said Jim Mellon, director of the International Student Services program at UH-Hilo. “But I think it’s important not to focus too much on the economic benefits of it. That’s important … but international students also bring a global or different perspective into the classroom that really broadens the worldview of our students.

“To me, that’s just as important, if not more important, than the economic benefit the students bring.”

The survey was conducted online between December 2015 and April 2016 by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. It represents about 12,200 international students from 31 state institutions, including UH-Hilo and Hawaii Community College.

Sixty international students were enrolled at HCC in fall 2015, or 1.9 percent of the total student body.

The survey shows 40 percent of Hawaii’s international students came from Japan in the 2015-16 school year, and 8.9 percent from South Korea. Nearly 7 percent came from Switzerland and 6 percent from China.

The breakdown at UH-Hilo looked a bit different. Sixty-nine students hailed from the Federated States of Micronesia in fall 2015, and 53 came from Japan. Forty-one were from the Marshall Islands and 11 from the United Kingdom.

UH-Hilo international students Jasmine Hicking, 27, from the Marshall Islands and Carlinda Joab, 22, from the island of Pohnpei in Micronesia, said Thursday they weren’t surprised to learn about the positive economic impact foreign students brought.

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Both said they came to UH-Hilo to take advantage of the island’s unique geography in their studies. They said the area’s high number of international students has helped them feel more at home.

“We don’t feel like we’re alone because we have other international students from other places,” Joab said. “For me, it’s like I’m not alone because there are other students I can relate to.”

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