I want to thank all the representatives of U.S. colleges, universities, and educational associations who have traveled from around the country to join us today. We are delighted to work as partners with you to strengthen the global reach and reputation of U.S. education.
And I would like to thank and welcome all of our regional educational advising coordinators and EducationUSA advisors who have traveled from all over the world to share invaluable insights and experiences from your work overseas.
Over the next three days, we will develop even deeper partnerships as we work together to keep the United States the premier destination for foreign students studying abroad.
This is an imperative for our nation. From a public diplomacy perspective, we must work to maintain and expand our people-to-people connections. This is the core of our strategy for engaging with foreign publics, because providing opportunities for education and exchange to young people creates life-long ties that bolster our long-term security and prosperity.
When students study in the United States, they return to their homes with a greater understanding of the United States and our people. And very often, they return to become government officials or business leaders in their home countries. This helps solidify the relationship between our nations and pays dividends of friendship and partnership for decades.
From an educational perspective, we want to enhance the competitiveness of the U.S. education system. Building ties with international students helps Americans gain international expertise that is critical to success in the 21st century global economy.
International students also fuel creativity and drive new ways of thinking on campus that helps all your students unlock their potential. And having those global ties fortifies your reputations as outward-facing, international institutions of learning that continue to offer the best educational opportunities for all students.
From an economic perspective, bringing foreign students to study in our country is just plain good business. The economic benefits to the U.S. economy from tuition, housing, and other expenses total nearly $20 billion each year and we can’t afford to lose out on that opportunity.
For these reasons and more, promoting study in the United States is a priority at the highest levels of our government. President Obama spoke about his commitment to it during his State of the Union address this year. And Secretary Clinton has incorporated educational partnerships into our high-level strategic dialogues with critical bilateral partners, including Russia, China, Indonesia, India, Brazil, and others.
We have prioritized international study because we understand that this is not just a “nice to have” addition to our foreign policy, it is a strategic necessity.
But we have lost some of our market share in international study as other countries have entered the playing field. Other nations understand its importance as much as we do, and they are aggressively marketing their programs to the best and brightest of the world.
As more and more countries develop competitive programs, students might find it easier to apply to and enroll in the high-quality universities in Germany, Singapore, Australia, or other nearby countries. They might erroneously believe the visa application process for the United States sets an insurmountable barrier to entry. They might be confused or discouraged by the diversity and decentralization of our university system.
That is where the EducationUSA educational advising network comes in – to complement and amplify the work of your institutions in your international outreach, to correct misinformation for potential students, and to guide students through the full range of opportunities to study in the United States and how to apply. And competition from other nations only motivates us to work harder and smarter to bring more talented students to the United States.
U.S. higher education has an outstanding reputation internationally because of its high quality, responsiveness, openness, and diversity. The great variety of our institutions’ sizes, missions, philosophies, and program offerings means every student can find their place here.
To help them, the State Department supports more than 400 EducationUSA Advising Centers in nearly every country of the world. We reach several million international students each year who are eager to study in the United States, but who need guidance to understand our system and our application processes.
We provide these students with comprehensive information about study opportunities, help them make a choice that is right for them, then assist them throughout the application process as well as the visa process.
But we know we cannot just sit back and wait for the students to come to us. So we have grown EducationUSA rapidly over the past year to reach out to students and invite them to think about study in the United States. In the last six months, we reached more than 1.3 million students through mobile advising outreach to reach students where they live.
I was able to see one such mobile advising kiosk in Bahrain last year, prior to the recent upheavals in that country. It was staffed by Bahraini alumni who had returned from studying in the United States. And it was located in a shopping mall where people could just stop by as they went about their other business. It was amazing to see the variety of people who stopped by to get information – not just the potential students themselves, but their fathers, mothers, and grandparents too.
During the last six months, we had nearly 700,000 students contact our Advising Centers directly for advice and consultation. So that’s 2 million new face-to-face contacts with potential students just since the beginning of the year.
In addition, using technology to conduct webinars, hold virtual college fairs, promote our message on social networking platforms and the EducationUSA website, we have made approximately five and a half million virtual contacts with students in the last six months.
So now we need to turn these millions of contacts into thousands of new applications for your institutions. At the State Department, we have set a goal of increasing the inflow of students to the United States from every country where we have an educational advising presence. I hope over the next three days we can find ways to work together with your institutions of higher education to help translate this goal into a reality.
To measure our progress we help support an annual report on student mobility conducted by our partner, the Institute of International Education. They track how many students are coming into the country each year, and where they are coming from with the annual Open Doors report. During the most recent reporting period, the 2009-2010 academic year, we were pleased to find the number of international students studying in the United States increased by 3 percent to nearly 691,000.
So we are headed in the right direction, but we have much more work to do. And we must work hand-in-hand to do it.
EducationUSA is thriving because of its partnership with you. No single institution can recruit in every country around the world, and we are eager to help you to expand your efforts in places you might not be able to reach without us.
Working with you, we can provide opportunities for more students from disadvantaged backgrounds to study in the United States than we could ever afford to sponsor on our own.
In fact, we now have Opportunity Funds in 49 countries with EducationUSA centers to help highly qualified, but financially disadvantaged students defray the up-front costs of testing and application that would otherwise prevent them from taking the first steps toward application and admission. We are also grateful for the generosity of many U.S. institutions in providing scholarships and tuition waivers to these outstanding international students with financial need.
I look forward to hearing about more ways we can work together to help traditionally marginalized groups, including women and indigenous communities, access educational opportunities in the United States.
Higher education has long been an area where the United States holds a competitive advantage in the world. You need students who will succeed academically and enrich your campuses with their unique experiences and cultural perspectives. We want those students to develop stronger ties to our country, our institutions, and our people.
We want to draw the world’s top talent to our country and create positive connections between international students and Americans. Your reputation for excellence has achieved that for decades. We want to help you grow that reputation in an increasingly crowded landscape of study options.
Together, we can ensure the United States remains the number one destination for international students throughout the 21st century.
Thank you for all that you offer and all that you do. I wish you a most productive conference.