Are Foreign Students a Boon Because They Pay Full Tuition or Not?

A common canard is that foreign students are an asset to universities because they pay for the full cost of their education. That may be true for some entering freshman, although most foreign students including undergraduates indicate in surveys that they have received some financial support from their school.

But, if the students pursue advanced degrees, it appears that they increasingly receive university support in the form of teaching assistanceship and other financial aid. The magnitude of this assistance was recently alluded to by John Hennessy, the president of Stanford University in congressional testimony who pointed out that “We spend between a quarter and a half a million dollars per student to educate somebody at the level of a Ph.D., and then you want to send them out after we’ve made this investment?” (Bloomberg News, October 6, 2011).

While there may be many valid reasons to have foreign students attend American universities, it is far from clear that we are turning a profit on them. Perhaps a better idea would be to invest that money in American students who are facing tough odds in the current economy.

About Author


Jack, who joined FAIR’s National Board of Advisors in 2017, is a retired U.S. diplomat with consular experience. He has testified before the U.S. Congress, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform and has authored studies of immigration issues. His national and international print, TV, and talk radio experience is extensive (including in Spanish).


  1. avatar

    I think much of the details of how universities operate are not known by the public, including me. Money spent on foreign students who by the terms of their F-1 visas signaled their intent to return home after their studies doesn’t make much sense.

    The Stanford University President’s remark about foreign students not being able to immigrate shows he has forgotten that the intent of the F visas was not as an immigration program, but to let other countries’s citizens be able to be educated for their own country’s benefit.

    If a private University wishes to expend large amounts of money on foreign students, that is up to them, however if the same assistance is given to foreign graduate students at public universities, I think the public should have a say in that, especially when we have record unemployment, and when public officials are often saying US citizens are not educated enough.

  2. avatar

    You’d think that would be a no-brainer, and why are we subsidizing foreigners in the first place?

  3. avatar

    Doesn’t every student pay full tuition? The student may have a combination of grants, scholarship, loans, etc. But from the school’sperspective, it receives all its money due.