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Interim Chancellor’s Monthly Column: International students and exchange important for Hawai‘i

Having international students, exchange programs, and conferences as part of our university community enriches all Hawai‘i communities and contributes to the local culture and economy, which in turn raises the quality of life for everyone.

By Marcia Sakai.

Members of the press from the Study Hawai‘i Press Tour stand with UH Hilo staff and state officials on United Nations Day. (Left to right, front row) Eri Hall, Hawai‘i Community College; Christine Quintana, Hawai‘i CC; Huiyuan Wang, Studying Abroad Online; Claudia Civinini, EL Gazette; Yukari Kato, Ryugaku Journal; Patrick Atack, PIE News; and Amanda Sadamoto, UH Hilo student. (Back row): Jiaqi Wu, UH Hilo student; Igor Skibickij, Student Marketing; Jim Mellon, UH Hilo (Executive Director, Global and Intercultural Education Programs and Director, International Student Services and Intercultural Education); Aaron Baldwin, Mainichi News; Allan Mitelmao, E! Magazine; Todd Shumway, UH Hilo (Director, Global Exchange); Timothy Tiu, State of Hawai‘i Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Click photo to enlarge.

We welcomed a group of special visitors to the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo last month. Seven international education journalists from key press outlets in Asia, Latin America, and Europe were in the state visiting campuses on O‘ahu and Hawai‘i Island as part of a Study Hawai‘i Press Tour aimed to help counter the downward trend in international students studying in Hawai‘i.

This trend is of concern because of the important contributions international students make to the state in cross cultural understanding, global cooperation and economic growth. The tour was hosted by the Hawai‘i Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) and the Study Hawai‘i Educational Consortium, an organization of 28 public and private schools, colleges and universities dedicated to increasing the enrollment of international students in Hawai‘i.

Their concern in the decline is warranted.

According to DBEDT’s 2017 Hawai‘i International Education Survey (via the Office of the Governor) Hawai‘i hosted 10,800 students from 27 institutions during the 2016-17 academic year, down from 12,200 students from 31 institutions during the 2015-16 academic year.

The total direct economic financial impact of international students for the state was an estimated $225.3 million in 2016-17, down from $302 million in 2015-16. This amount includes tuition and fees plus living expenses. In addition to the direct impact, other economic benefits of international students in Hawai‘i for the 2016-17 period included:

  • $484 million added to the state’s total economic output, including direct, indirect, and induced effects.
  • $32 million in state taxes generated from the total economic output.
  • $192 million in household earnings attributed to foreign students.
  • 5,093 jobs supported by foreign students’ spending.
  • $24,139 overall average annual per student spending.

At UH Hilo, we’re not seeing a drop in international enrollment this semester compared to last year with 258 international students this fall (7.3 percent of total student population) up from last fall’s 245 (6.7 percent of total). But in the previous four years from 2012 to 2015, the counts were higher at 263, 276, 274, and 264 respectively.

International education is an important part of the mission of UH Hilo. We pride ourselves on our inclusive community of diverse people and we encourage dialogue where differences in ideas, viewpoints and traditions are valued—this promotes multicultural fluency and prepares our students well for the global society. Along with the initiatives underway at UH Hilo to boost recruitment and retention of state residents, it’s important that we also work on attracting students and scholars to our campus for study and exchange.

International Education Week

The journalists’ tour of Hawai‘i schools on O‘ahu and Hawai‘i Island was timed to coincide with International Education Week (Nov. 13-18), when the UH System joined universities across the country and the world to celebrate international education. Events at UH campuses throughout the state celebrated the contributions of international education and international students with food from countries around the world, dance and music performances, films, lectures and more.

At UH Hilo, the activities during International Education Week included our annual Parade of Nations, where groups of our international students walk from the Campus Center to the Library Lanai wearing traditional dress and displaying the flags of their homelands—it’s a fun and colorful event. On the Library Lanai, students from different parts of the world shared displays and information about their countries.

Parade of Nations, Nov. 17, 2017, UH Hilo campus. More photos.

It was wonderful to share this celebration with the visiting press and I know they came away with an understanding about how beautifully our international students thrive here.

Our celebration of diversity on campus isn’t limited to one week a year. In October, we held the annual Barrio Fiesta where UH Hilo and the local community celebrated the richness of Filipino heritage, culture and scholarship.

Female dancer with elaborate headdress and traditional clothing.
Barrio Fiesta, Oct. 27, UH Hilo campus. More photos.

As part of Filipino American Heritage Month, this year’s fiesta also served as the opening ceremonies of the first International Conference on Multidisciplinary Filipino Studies—the campus welcomed researchers from around the world to share and exchange ideas, research, and interest of Filipinos and the Philippines.

Having international students, exchange programs, and conferences as part of our university community enriches all Hawai‘i communities and contributes to the local culture and economy, which in turn raises the quality of life for everyone.

Aloha,

Marcia Sakai

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