Back to School – with an International Twist!

The phrase “Back to School” conjures up images of shopping for backpacks, school supplies, and maybe lunch-bags for many Americans. Unbeknownst to most back-to-school American shoppers, the school shopping list is about the same for the more than 29,000 international students now settling into colleges and universities across Michigan for their higher education.[1]

At the start of the school year, Welcome Mat Detroit and Global Talent Retention Initiative (GTRI) participated in several Welcoming Orientation events for international students, as well as for the domestic student population, at local universities and colleges, including the University of Michigan – Dearborn, Madonna University, and Wayne State University. Welcoming Orientations for both international and American students vary in their formats but generally are organized to combine the delivery of important information with fun activities. Global Detroit Director of Corporate Strategy, Gracie Xavier spent a few moments teaching students how to say “welcome” in various languages as well as explaining to students the various workshops and services offered by GTRI to assist international students with connecting to employers.

GTRI WMD intl stud activitiesMary Lane, Director of Welcome Mat Detroit, presented Michigan food products and an overview of the Welcome Mat database, which connects users to an array of organizations providing business, legal, medical, and social assistance. Lane held a “challenge” activity to help students navigate the database and learn how to search for and identify Michigan’s ethnic communities and services on the website. Lane also coordinated a scavenger hunt for the students to familiarize and encourage them to engage with the local communities outside of campus.

The nation’s international student population of 886,052 in the 2013-14 academic year contributed an estimated $27 billion to the American economy. On the reverse side, 289,408 American students studied abroad for academic credit from their U.S. colleges and universities in 2014.

The state of Michigan ranks ninth among the states in total number of international students, and these students bring an estimated $927 million into the local economy annually. These students attend all of our Michigan colleges and universities, with largest attendance at Michigan State University, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and Wayne State University. They come predominantly from China, India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Canada. These numbers are at an all-time record high, demonstrating we truly live in a globally interconnected world.

International students don’t just represent a valuable economic contribution to the state while they matriculate here, they represent a critical opportunity for our economic future. International students are roughly three times as likely as domestic students to major in STEM fields and comprise more than 50% of PhDs in the STEM fields and as many as 40% of master’s degrees in engineering, life sciences, computer sciences, and physical sciences are awarded each year in the U.S.[2] They represent an important opportunity to fill unmet STEM talent needs for Michigan employers.

These talented international students also represent the future of high-tech job creation. While the foreign-born constituted only 5.3% of the Michigan population in 2000, they created 32.8% of all Michigan’s high-tech startups from 1995 – 2005 (and 25% of all the high-tech start-ups nationally during this period).[3] Follow-up research to the study on immigrant high-tech firms revealed that the average immigrant high-tech entrepreneur started her business 13 years after she entered the U.S., and the most common reason she came to the U.S. was to pursue her education. In other words, the average immigrant high-tech entrepreneur was once an international student. Simply put, retaining international students after they graduate is the pathway to becoming the Silicon Valley of the Midwest.

The international students were excited about the GTRI and Welcome Mat presentations and the universities welcomed the information shared to support the students. We look forward to deepening the opportunities to connect these students to our community.

[1] From the report “Open Doors 2014: International Students in the United States and Study Abroad by American Students are at All-Time High” by the Institute for International Education and the U.S> Department of State.

[2] Richard Herman and Raghav Singh, “Recruiting the Tired, the Poor, and the Wretched Refuse,” Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership, September 2008, p. 18.

[3] Vivek Wadhwa, AnnaLee Saxenian, Ben Rissing, and Gary Gereffi, “America’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs,” Duke University and University of California-Berkeley, January 4, 2007,.

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