Ted Dean is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Services at the International Trade Administration.
Last month, I had an unique opportunity to lead a U.S. Department of Commerce education trade mission to San Salvador and Santa Ana, El Salvador; Tegucigalpa, Honduras; and Managua, Nicaragua. The mission not only strengthened cultural and economic ties between the United States and these countries, but it generated a great deal of enthusiasm thanks to face-to-face meetings between higher learning institutions in the United States, and students and schools in the region.
During the mission, representatives from nearly 20 accredited U.S. academic institutions—representing 14 states, the District of Colombia, and Puerto Rico—showcased their impressive undergraduate, graduate, community college and intensive English language programs. Commerce’s partner on the mission was the U.S. Department of State’s EducationUSA.
While in El Salvador, our delegation was well-received during visits to The American School (Escuela Americana El Salvador), a college-preparatory institution, and Catholic University of El Salvador (Universidad Católica de El Salvador), in Santa Ana. Throughout the mission, U.S. school representatives met with hundreds of enthusiastic students during a series of education trade fairs where they shared insights on education and workforce trends. I expect that our participation in these events will open new horizons for many students to pursue educational opportunities in the United States, enabling them to advance their workforce skills while contributing to economic growth in their home countries.
The United States is a premier destination for students studying abroad. According to the Institute of International Education, nearly 900,000 international students studied at U.S. institutions of higher learning during the 2013–2014 academic year, which is more than any other country. The United States is home to more than 4,000 accredited institutions of higher learning and, according to Times Higher Education, the United States hosts 15 of the top 20 universities in the world. In addition, the availability of generous financial aid offered by many U.S. schools has increased opportunities for international study in the United States.
U.S. education exports continue to be a major contributor to the U.S. economy, with international student spending in the United States totaling more than $27 billion in 2014. This trade mission is yet another example of how President Obama’s Look South Initiative is working to encourage U.S. businesses to explore trade opportunities with the United States’ free trade agreement partner countries in Latin America. Together, these 11 countries represent more than 270 million consumers.