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They come, they study, they stay: Report says Las Vegas is fertile ground for foreign students

UNLV Graduation - Entertainment Engineering

Sam Morris

Students flip their tassels during UNLV’s commencement Saturday, May 12, 2012.

Las Vegas has become a desirable place for foreign students to study and work.

Behind the global tourist destination that is the Strip and a premier hotel college at UNLV, Las Vegas has the fifth-highest rate in the country in retaining international students in the workforce after they graduate, according to a new Brookings Institute study. Las Vegas ranked behind New York, Honolulu, Seattle and Miami.

Neil Ruiz, a Brookings Metropolitan Policy fellow who authored the report, said the retention rate proved Las Vegas has made progress in expanding its economy well beyond Nevada.

“Students are making use of the hotel program and going into positions on the Strip,” Ruiz said. “It shows that foreign students are key to globalizing Las Vegas.”

The study, titled “The Geography of Foreign Students in U.S. Higher Education: Origins and Destinations,” examined a database on foreign student visa approvals from 2001 to 2012 to see where students were studying. It then looked at how many students received an Optional Practical Training visa that allowed them to work in the city for up to 29 months after graduation.

The goal was to examine the economic benefits foreign students can have on the cities where they choose to study. From 2008 to 2012, the study found that foreign students contributed $21 billion in tuition and $12 billion in living costs to the U.S. economy. It also found that foreign students were a bridge between their home city and the city where they went to school. Many UNLV students eventually leave Las Vegas to return home and start hotels, Ruiz said.

“For universities as well as state leaders, they have to think more on how to leverage student connections of foreign students already there,” Ruiz said. “They can use skills to connect to businesses in Las Vegas to Singapore and other parts of China.”

UNLV’s Harrah’s Hotel College attracted the majority of international students to Las Vegas. Most students came from cities like Singapore, Seoul, Beijing and Hong Kong, which all have growing resort industries.

The study found that there was a large demand from Las Vegas hotels for multilingual graduates, especially those who speak Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese or Korean to cater to the growing Asian clientele. As a result, Las Vegas was able to retain 66.9 percent of its foreign graduates in the workforce compared to the national average of 45 percent.

Ruiz said Las Vegas was one of the most surprising cities in the study because it didn’t have a large, diverse economic base like New York or Los Angeles from which to draw international students. Instead, it is capitalizing off its niche industry — the hotels.

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