International Students Bring Opportunity to the Valley

By Nathan Myers
YSU Assistant Provost, International Initiatives

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – In August, Youngstown State University anticipates the arrival of more than 400 new, first-time international students, joining the 600 students who are currently enrolled. This historic influx is projected to catapult YSU’s total international footprint to over 1,000 students from 60-plus countries.

Immigration that spawns opportunity is a concept imprinted in the DNA of Youngstown. Who can imagine the success and prosperity of the productive industries of northeastern Ohio during the 20th century without immigration? Who can imagine Youngstown without the many ethnicities that makes this city a special place? Certainly, the strength of our heritage ethnic communities attest to the role immigration played in bringing economic and cultural vitality.

And yet, this current wave of immigration will look much different than the last one. Instead of European newcomers, today’s international students are, primarily, from countries like India, Nepal and Vietnam.

Whereas the newcomers in the early 1900s were usually hired by industry as unskilled workers and then trained for specific occupational purposes, today’s international students often arrive in Youngstown with qualifications in engineering, computer programming and multiple other areas. Despite these differences, the search for new opportunity to engage in honest and honorable work is a common thread linking past new American generations with this new American generation.

In 2015, the Ohio Board of Regents commissioned a report that found the 30,000 international students enrolled in Ohio’s colleges and universities contributed more than $872 million to the state’s economy in 2013 alone.

Regional employers can tap this skilled workforce in several ways. During their studies, international students are eligible to hold internships with local employers who have internship agreements with YSU’s academic programs. Upon graduation, international students become eligible for one to three years of work permission through a federal government program known as Optional Practical Training. OPT allows employers in the region to legally hire international students to put their YSU education to work, filling hard-to-fill positions in STEM and business, as well as many other occupations.

The same Board of Regents report found that the employment of international students does not take jobs away from Ohioans, but creates new jobs for each international student that is hired. A Harvard University study found that when there is more immigration into an area, more native-born individuals will move into the area to take advantage of the economic opportunity, creating economic growth. An influx of foreign-born students is an engine for prosperity.

The economic impact of this burgeoning international enrollment at YSU will be felt in the region in the short-term. Long-term, the cultural imprint of these newcomers may be the most significant development. Our collective honoring of diverse ways of life makes us all stronger. It makes our community more colorful. It makes the region more interesting. The ability of business, industry, the nonprofit sector and higher education to work together will dictate the extent to which the Mahoning Valley is repopulated.

The enrollment of international students at YSU is the next chapter in a long story of immigration and prosperity in Ohio and the region. YSU’s success in international enrollment, supported by a heavy investment in digital marketing, has helped to offset the declining domestic admissions trajectory. These students bring with them many hopes and dreams for a better future, but they also bring cultural and economic opportunity for the entire community.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.