Global Engagement Solutions for Higher Education


Strategic Budgeting: Championing the Importance of International Education

January 29, 2024


From a podcast interview with Paulo Zagalo-Melo, Western Michigan University’s Associate Provost for Global Education, with 30 years of experience in international education.

“We have to internally show that we are everywhere, that what we do impacts most, if not everything, that the university is doing or could impact if embedded into those activities or those programs.”


Paulo Zagalo Melo, the Associate Provost for Global Education at Western Michigan University, discusses how international education stands out as the leading growth market in higher education and its crucial involvement in research, innovation, and fostering cultural understanding. Paulo stresses the importance of advocating for internationalization, considering it essential to the institution's mission and strategic agenda. He highlights the critical role of strategic budgeting in effectively tackling resource and funding challenges.

The Case for Internationalization

When asked to rate the importance of international education on a scale of 1 to 10, Paulo confidently places it at the highest portion of the scale. He emphasizes that internationalization financially benefits institutions and contributes to the global search for talent and mutual understanding between cultures.

“We’re in the peacekeeping business, contributing to a better mediation or resolution of conflicts."

The economic value of international education is significant. Paulo highlights that international enrollment at Western Michigan University alone contributes over $70 million to the community and supports 600 jobs. On a larger scale, international education is responsible for $38 billion of economic impact in the United States. Paulo emphasizes that internationalization is not just about financial gain but also about improving the quality of research, innovation, and cultural diversity in higher education.

Addressing the Global Enrollment Cliff

While international education represents the largest growth market in higher education, there is a concerning trend of declining enrollments overall. Paulo acknowledges this challenge and emphasizes the need for institutions to embrace internationalization as a solution.

He states, "Closing ourselves to that cultural, intellectual exchange is really drawing a limit to what should have no limits."

By embracing internationalization, institutions can tap into a global market of students and researchers, fostering diversity and innovation. Paulo believes that internationalization is essential for institutions to remain economically competitive and to address global challenges collectively.

Making the Case for Internationalization

To garner support and resources for internationalization, Paulo advises other SIOs and institutional leaders to align their initiatives with the mission and vision of their universities. He emphasizes that internationalization should not be seen as an add-on but rather as an integral part of every aspect of the institution.

Paulo states, "Internationalization is embedded within everything that the institution does."

The Pivotal Role of Strategic Budgeting

Strategic budgeting is crucial in making the case for internationalization. Paulo suggests two key stages: showing that the initiative works and demonstrating its financial sustainability. He compares this process to building an airplane, where you must first show that it can fly and then ensure it can continue to fly consistently. Strategic budgeting involves connecting the institution's strategic plan with internationalization initiatives and demonstrating its long-term financial viability.

Paulo stresses that advocating and making the case for internationalization is part of the strategic budgeting process, “How do we make the case within our own institutions? That is our daily life as SIOs.”

The IE Proof Points of Sustainability

To prove the sustainability of internationalization initiatives, Paulo emphasizes the importance of demonstrating demand and need.

“You have to show that there’s a market, there’s demand, and there’s a need for international interactions.”

By showcasing international education's economic and non-economic impact, institutions can highlight the return on investment and the benefits to the community.

Paulo also shares examples of the tangible impact of internationalization. He mentions the collaboration between Western Michigan University's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Michigan Department of Transportation to rebuild a bridge in Detroit. The project involved faculty and students, many of whom were international, and resulted in the first bridge that was fully assembled off-site, a true marvel.

Overcoming Challenges

One of the major challenges in making the case for internationalization is addressing the perception that resources invested internationally may not benefit the local community. Paulo acknowledges this concern and suggests countering it by demonstrating the return on investment. He highlights reports from organizations like NAFSA and the Institute of International Education that show international students' economic value and impact.

Paulo also emphasizes highlighting the non-economic impact of internationalization, such as the contributions of international scholars and researchers to innovation and knowledge creation.

“No single topic is local anymore. We can only improve our lives through global education and global engagement.”


In conclusion, international education is a must-have for higher education institutions. It brings financial benefits and fosters diversity, innovation, and mutual understanding. By strategically budgeting for internationalization initiatives and constantly making the case for their sustainability, institutions can tap into a growing global market and address the challenges of declining enrollments as an ongoing part of their mission.

The future outlook for international education is promising. As technology advances and the world becomes more interconnected, the need for global competence and collaboration will only increase. Institutions that embrace internationalization and invest in global engagement will be better positioned to thrive in an ever-changing world.

Paulo Zagalo Melo's passion for international education and extensive field experience testifies to the transformative power of global engagement. By following his advice and making the case for internationalization, institutions can create a more inclusive, innovative, and interconnected future for higher education.

To catch the full interview with Paulo, CLICK HERE.