As we reported earlier, the recently released International Student Economic Value Tool was designed to influence Members of Congress in the United States in the run-up to the highly anticipated immigration legislation that was working its way around the Capitol earlier this year. Though crafted with legislators in mind, however, the data it provides – which was compiled compiled by NAFSA, the Association of International Educators and relies on international student data from Institute of International Education’s Open Doors Report and economic data from the Wintergreen Orchard House – has implications for a much wider audience. Because the data is organized on a regional, state-by-state, and congressional district level, international educations and administrators can gain valuable insight by understanding the trends it illustrates – including the economic impact of international students. Take, for example, the disparities in growth (of international students, jobs supported, and economic benefit) it shows on a regional basis over the last ten years.

According to the data, the 178,225 students studied in the Midwest in 2011, a 35% increase over the 131,955 that studied in the same region in 2002. In the same period, however, the economic benefit of international students to the region grew by 75% (from 2,793 million to 4,862 million) while only 15% more jobs were created (58,033 to 68,696).

The Northeast saw slightly smaller growth – 31% based on a rise from 146,840 to 191,927 international students and, accordingly, a smaller economic contribution. Though the $3,722 million dollars in 2002 rose to $6,284 million in 2011, this 68% rise resulted in the creation of less than ten thousand jobs and employment growth of only 12%.

The story out west was similar. The number of international students rose from 135812 to 178,197 (31%) between 2002 and 2011 and the number of jobs created rose by 20% (from 52,878 to 63,545). Nevertheless the economic benefit of international students rose by an astounding 80%, from $2,883 million to $5,163 million.

The South represents an interesting outlier to this developing trend. Though the number of international students grew at the smallest rate of all four regions – 23% based on a change from 174,947 to 215,164 – and the number of jobs created only rose by 11% (to 74,927  from 67,446), the overall economic benefit on international students rose an astounding from $3,436 million to $5,482 million. This 60% increase represents a considerable return on investment for what continues to be the most popular region for international students.

As a result of findings like these, then, it would be wise for international education professionals to keep their eyes not only on job creation but economic benefit. After all, even if international student enrollment does not directly create jobs it does feed the engine that is the American economy.