International students boost Missouri economy

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COLUMBIA - More foreign students are attending college in Missouri than ever before, boosting the state's economy.

The Institute for Higher Education counts a record 18,205 students from other countries are enrolled at Missouri higher education institutions in 2014. This number marks an 8 percent increase since 2013.

The National Association of Foreign Student Advisors reported that foreign students spent more than $500 million in Missouri during the 2013-14 academic year.

Almost two-thirds of international students come from China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, India or Brazil. China alone makes up 40 percent of the international students in Missouri.

"I work in the Writing Center, and most of my students are Chinese students," said Meng Ren, a graduate student from Beijing studying English at the University of Missouri - Columbia. "And that's instead of Koreans and Japanese students, which is kind of interesting to see."

NBC News reports earlier this month, President Obama announced a new visa agreement plan with China's government. Obama said Chinese student visas will be extended to five years, and business and tourist visas to 10 years. The move will also apply to U.S. citizens in China.

Ren said she understands why the United States would make such a deal with China.

"I would think the politics of China being a rising economic power helped with that foreign policy change," Ren said. "Now more rich people can afford to come abroad, and especially with a longer extended Visa, they can deal with less troubles."

Previously, visas were granted on a year-at-a-time basis.