Last week, many news outlets reported that the College Board placed 857 school desks near the Washington Monument. The number of chairs the organization presented was to demonstrate the total number of high school students leaving the classrooms every hour, every day in the United States, according to the reports.
As I was reading the reports, I could not help but wonder how this might affect the economic crisis the United States has been facing. If high schools cannot be an immediate answer to combat the crisis, foreign students in higher education like myself might be another solution.
In 2011, American universities accepted 723,277 international students, enough to fill roughly seven packed Beaver Stadiums. This was a 4.7 percent increase from 2010, when 690,923 foreign students came, as the “Open Door” 2011 annual census from the Institute of International Education demonstrates.
Through their spending on tuition and living expenses, these students brought more than $20 billion to the American economy in 2010 and 2011, according IIE. The IIE notes that Pennsylvania received 30,507 international students in 2011, making it sixth in the country. It also notes that Penn State University Park is No. 15 among colleges with the most international students, with 5,207 in 2011. This helped to bring more than $951 million to the state in 2011, according to IIE.
If American universities continue to attract so much international attention, why doesn't the government take advantage of it? The return is almost immediate. Classrooms will become more diverse. American students will be more marketable thanks to a greater understanding of different cultures, markets and governments.
According to a 2007 Duke University study, immigrants helped to start about a quarter of the engineering and technology companies founded between 1995 to 2005. Google, Yahoo and eBay are just a few companies that were started by immigrants.
If the more than 4,000 universities in the United States accept more foreign students, more money will flow into the country's economy.
This scenario is not often seen because of politicians' and other officials' protectionist mentality. A major obstacle for many international students is the bureaucratic visa application process and strict working rules standing in their way to legally coming to the United States.
If you're a foreign student who's looking to get an American visa, you'll need: identification from your native country; a social security card; a passport; two perfectly taken photos with your entire face, forehead and shoulders shown; your father and mother's declaration of earnings and proprieties for the most recent fiscal year and enough money for several fees.
You might think you're done then, but there's also an interview process that may or may not be the final step.
If all stages were successfully completed, the visa comes in 10 business days. I know because I've been through this process.
On the other hand, when I traveled to Canada, I only had to bring along the following: a school letter to prove I had the intention to return from Canada, my ID card and passport. It only took a few hours for the Canadian embassy to issue me a visa.
If international students manage to obtain a visa, study in the United States and graduate — whether it's from an associate, undergraduate, graduate or doctoral program — they should be granted extra time the country to develop and polish the skills learned in class.
This takes place to a certain extent now. Students normally can apply to Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows them to stay another 12 months working. Depending on their majors, an extension of another 17 months may apply.
But that's it. The government also invests a lot of money providing scholarships and other funding to international students, but it loses out on its investment when these students have to leave about two and a half years later. Politicians, regardless of the party affiliation or ideologies, should drive home to the public how much healthier the economy would be with the help of more international students.
In a 2011 speech at a symposium held by the Council on Foreign Relations, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said it's not productive to overlook immigrants’ role in the economy — he compared it to committing "national suicide," according to a transcript on the CFR website.
International students are sitting in our classrooms right now, and there could be more if the government would make the process to getting there a little less complicated.
In the end, when it's already making more than $20 billion a year from international students, the United States would only benefit from being more welcoming.
Eric Visintainer is a senior majoring in print journalism and is The Daily Collegian’s Thursday columnist. Email him at email@example.com.