A GLOBAL TALENT MAGNET: How a San Francisco/Bay Area Higher Education Hub Could Advance California's Comparative Advantage In Attracting International Talent and Further Build US Economic Competitiveness


During the 2009-10 academic year international students generated more than $18.8 billion in net income into the US economy. California alone had nearly 100,000 international students with an economic impact of nearly $3.0 billion. In this paper, we outline a strategy for the San Francisco/Bay Area to double the number of international students enrolled in local colleges and universities in ten years or less, generating a total direct economic impact of an additional $1 billion a year into the regional economy. The US retains a huge market advantage for attracting foreign students. Within the US, the San Francisco/Bay Area is particularly attractive and could prevail as an extraordinary global talent magnet, if only policymakers and higher education leaders better understood this and formulated strategies to tap the global demand for higher education. Ultimately, all globalism is local. We propose that the San Francisco/Bay Area, a region with a group of stellar universities and colleges, should re-imagine itself as a Global Higher Education Hub to meet national and regional economic needs, as well as the thirst of a growing world population for high-quality tertiary education. Other parts of the world have already developed their version of the higher education hub idea. The major difference in our proposed Californian version is that foreign competitors seek to attract foreign universities to help build enrollment and program capacity at home, and are funded almost solely by significant government subsidies. Our model builds capacity, but is focused on attracting the world’s talent and generating additional income to existing public and private colleges and universities. Doubling international enrollment from 30,000 to 60,000 students in ten years or less will require expanding regional enrollment capacity as part of a strategy to ensure access to native students, and as part of a scheme to attract a new generation of faculty and researchers to the Bay Area and California. International students would need to pay higher then the full cost of their education, helping to subsidize domestic students and college and university programs. The result would be a San Francisco/Bay Area Global Higher Education Hub – a self-reinforcing knowledge ecosystem that is internationally attractive, socially beneficial, and economically viable. We offer a path for analyzing the feasibility of this Global Higher Education Hub, including the steps necessary to engage the private sector and local government to help create enrollment capacity and academic programs, a discussion of a financial model, possible marketing strategies, and for developing shared facilities and services. This initiative will require most Bay Area colleges and universities, including UC Berkeley and Stanford University, to collaborate. By providing a leadership role, Berkeley and Stanford would help brand the hub idea internationally, provide leadership in shaping direct and indirect economic returns of the SF/Bay area higher education hub, while also gaining from the increased international attractiveness of the region and the use of shared facilities. It is about the money. But it is also about establishing closer ties with the regional universities and colleges, business interests and local governments, enhancing the quality and reputation of our universities and colleges, building enrollment capacity for native students, integrating international perspectives into the activities and learning of students and faculty, and broadening the opportunity for international collaborations. It is about solidifying the Bay Area as a global talent magnet, one that is even more culturally diverse, even more innovative, and that continues to attract talent from throughout the world. We conclude the paper by suggesting that a regionally based knowledge hub would also be a viable strategy for a select group of other urban areas of the US. 

Publication date: 
May 1, 2011
Publication type: 
Research and Occasional Papers Series (ROPS)
A GLOBAL TALENT MAGNET: How a San Francisco/Bay Area Higher Education Hub Could Advance California's Comparative Advantage In Attracting International Talent and Further Build US Economic Competitiveness