Asia Pacific Student Numbers Are High In Hawai‘i, But Not Growing Fast Enough

Asia ASEAN Japan

A new study, released in April 2015 by Hawai‘i’s Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism (DBET), reports on the economic impact of international students in Hawai‘i during the 2014/2015 academic year. The study showed that of the top five countries of origin of international students in Hawai‘i, four are in the Asia Pacific. Japan, with over 3,000 students and a 31% total share of international students, came in at number one, followed by South Korea (2), China (3), and Taiwan (5). Switzerland (4) was the only country outside of the Asia Pacific to break into the top five. When expanded to look at the top 25 countries of origin, nine more Asia Pacific countries make the list: the Philippines, Vietnam, the Marshall Islands, Thailand, Samoa, Micronesia, Australia, Indonesia, and Fiji. Proximity to the region and the state’s large Asia Pacific diaspora communities offer some explanation for Hawai‘i’s large number of students from Asia. For instance, Japanese-Americans make up over 13% of the state’s population, a share much higher than the national average.

DBET also found that international students directly contributed $205 million to Hawai‘i’s economy, up from $165 million in 2009. This includes tuition and fees as well as living expenses. When indirect contributions are included—ripple-effect revenue generated from jobs, taxes, and household income—the impact of foreign students’ spending amounted to $443 million. In addition, over 4,900 jobs were supported by their spending.

Across the US, international students are playing an important role economically. In a report produced by the Brookings Institution last August, it was estimated that in 2013, foreign students contributed over $27 billion to the US economy. Students from the Asia Pacific region play a significant role in this, as China, India, and South Korea alone represent over 50% of the total share of foreign students in the US.

Even as more and more international students are coming to the US for school, Hawai‘i has not kept pace with the rest of the nation. From 2005-2013, international students in the US doubled, while their presence in Hawai‘i only increased by 3.3% over the same time. Schools in the state, like the University of Hawai‘i, are addressing this drop in competitive position by attempting to attract more foreign students. Currently, the university has plans to further develop its 3+2 and 2+2 programs that allow foreign students to split their time between an overseas university in students’ home countries and the University of Hawai‘i. The issue is even being addressed by the state government. A bill to allocate more funds to market Hawai‘i as a destination for international students, introduced by State Rep. Derek Kawakami in January, is currently going through the state legislature.

Chad Westra is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an undergraduate student at Calvin College.