Higher Education Exports—the $150 Billion Bill on the Sidewalk

I’m watching Larry Summers speak at the Center for American Progress mostly on fiscal policy topics, but he made a brief remark on a subject that I think is more interesting: Higher education.

Summers mentioned that for all the valid complaints that one hears about the state of American college education, there’s a clear demand for it on the international stage so we must be doing something right. Many more foreign students come here to study than we send abroad, notwithstanding the generally higher cost structure of the American higher education sector. That, he said, is a strength the United States should take advantage of as an export industry. We should expand capacity, he said, and basically give out more visas. It makes a lot of sense to me. If you think of any other product we make in America—Boeing planes, for example—we’d think it was obviously insane to limit how many foreigners are allowed to buy. So why not open the doors for more foreigners to consume our higher education exports?

Adam Ozimek was writing about this earlier this week and concluded that over time (not instantaneously because you need to build capacity) we could generate about $150 billion a year in new foreign purchases linked to higher education exports. That’s a big deal!