Michigan State University in East Lansing has been a steady leader among public universities in the United States for sending its students abroad for a portion of their academic studies. On the flipside, the university along with seven other Big Ten universities has been the lucky recipients of a growing influx of international students, particularly undergraduates from China in the past five years. According to the Open Doors 2011 report from the Institute of International Education, of the 25 universities in the United States with the largest international student population, eight are from the Big Ten (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan. Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, and Wisconsin).
China has become the primary source of new international students since 2005, as the nation’s economy has boomed and its citizen’s wealth has grown. Part of the reason for this influx beyond increased wealth is due to the fact that only 18 percent of students are admitted to Chinese universities. The growth from China alone has been substantial enough to warrant Michigan State to open a satellite office in Beijing, China in 2008.
For Michigan State University, the rise in the international student population is fortuitous because it’s taking place at a time where the pool of potential Michigan resident students is starting to decline. As a result, the international students are filling a void and not squeezing out home state students. Below is a chart based on annual data from Michigan State’s Office for International Students and Scholars which shows the meteoric growth in the Chinese student population (undergraduate and graduate) at Michigan State. The greatest proportion of the growth in recent years has been in undergraduate students, rising from just 92 in 2006 to 2,217 in 2011.
In the communities around Michigan State’s campus, there has been a noticeable influx of new residents from China, many arriving with a great deal of disposable income. While the university requires all freshmen to live on campus, students are free to live where they choose after that first year. Based on cursory observations and reports from area property owners, the largest concentration of students from China appears to be occurring just to the northeast of campus along the Grand River Avenue (M-43) corridor. However, they are not alone, as a substantial number of relatively recent newcomers to the United States now reside in many parts of Greater Lansing from India and several other Asian nations.
Recognizing the growing and fairly concentrated Chinese student population, a number of commercial businesses along an approximate two-mile stretch of Grand River Avenue (M-43) now include Mandarin lettering in addition to English on their signs. Furthermore, some of the international students themselves are opening new businesses along this commercial corridor and in nearby areas. Automatic teller machines on campus and in the surrounding community now offer transactions in numerous languages (in some cases more than eight), including Mandarin. In an effort to reach out to the area’s growing Chinese community, Meridian Township, which borders the campus, recently appointed a Michigan State University student-local resident with family ties to China to a seat on the community’s Economic Development Corporation.
According to a report from the Association of International Educators, foreign students attending Michigan State University contributed nearly $185 million to the Greater Lansing economy in 2010, of which almost $90 million was spent on living expenses and dependents. Needless to say, spending like that gets noticed quickly.
Public school districts near Michigan State’s campus have also benefited from the growth in the international student population, as many of these students bring their spouses and/or children with them to the United States. Since Michigan’s funding formula for school districts is based on student head counts, any increase in class attendance is important to a school district’s bottom line.
This author can personally attest to the substantial benefits derived from a more diverse and inclusive community. It can be observed in new friendships, more cultural and religious offerings, dining and recreational options, educational opportunities, travel options, architectural influences, and in the area’s enhanced entrepreneurial spirit. Freshman year at Michigan State, my son’s dormitory roommate was from South Korea. As a result, my son was afforded an amazing opportunity to befriend someone from the opposite side of the planet and learn more about his culture,while sharing the same about America.
Will this student population boomlet from China continue into the foreseeable future? One would imagine so, barring any international disputes or incidents taking place that might sour relations. As a result, collegiate communities throughout the Rust Belt could and should be able to reap the cultural, societal, and economic benefits from Chinese and other international student population growth for some time to come. I cannot think of a better way to build friendships, improved understanding, and trust between the amazing array of societies and cultures on this planet.
— Rick Brown