Exchanges Start to Bounce Back

Foreign enrollments in U.S. see slight drop while record number of American students study abroad.
November 14, 2005

The post-9/11 damage to the international exchange of students is starting to be repaired.

Data being released today reveal that 565,039 students from abroad enrolled at American colleges and universities in 2004-5, a drop of 1.3 percent from the previous year. In 2003-4, foreign enrollments dropped by 2.4 percent -- the first drop reported in the annual "Open Doors" report compiled annually by the Institute of International Education.

Even more encouraging than the smaller decline this year was a preliminary survey conducted on fall 2005 enrollments. That survey found that more institutions this year are reporting increases in foreign enrollments that are reporting declines.

Other data released as part of "Open Doors" show that a record number of American students are enrolling in study abroad programs -- and a Congressionally appointed committee will today release a report calling for a substantial increase in study abroad programs.

Foreign Students in the United States

This decade has seen historic increases and declines in foreign student enrollments, which make up about 4 percent of all enrollments -- and much higher percentages in many vital graduate science and technology programs.

Trends in Foreign Enrollments, 2000-2005

Year Total Foreign Enrollment 1-Year % Change
2000-1 547,867 +6.4%
2001-2 582,996 +6.4%
2002-3 586,323 +0.6%
2003-4 572,509 -2.4%
2004-5 565,039 -1.3%

As is generally the case, business, science and engineering enroll the greatest number of foreign students. The disciplines showing the greatest increases were the physical and life sciences. Among academic degree types, doctoral programs were the only category showing an increase (+2 percent), while master's programs (-14.6 percent) showed the greatest decline.

Since 9/11, American colleges have struggled to maintain foreign enrollments. Visas have become more difficult (unreasonably so, according to many experts) while perceived American hostility toward foreigners and negative images created by U.S. foreign policy have discouraged some foreign students from applying. During the same period, other countries -- notably Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany and Japan -- have become much more ambitious about recruiting foreign students.

The country-by-country breakdowns for enrollment in 2004-5 show that the top senders of foreign students -- India, China and South Korea -- all show modest increases. Two Muslim nations -- Indonesia and Pakistan -- saw large decreases.

Foreign Enrollments From Top Countries of Origin, 2004-5

Rank Country Enrollment 1-Year % Change
1 India 80,466 +0.9%
2 China 62,523 +1.2%
3 South Korea 53,358 +1.7%
4 Japan 42,215 +3.4%
5 Canada 28,140 +4.2%
6 Taiwan 25,914 -1.0%
7 Mexico 13,063 -2.0%
8 Turkey 12,474 +9.4%
9 Germany   8,640 -1.2%
10 Thailand   8,637 -3.4%
11 Britain   8,236 -2.4%
12 Indonesia   7,760 -12.6%
13 Colombia   7,334 -2.6%
14 Brazil   7,244 -7.1%
15 Hong Kong   7,180 -2.4%
16 Kenya   6,728 -8.8%
17 France   6,555 -3.9%
18 Nigeria   6,335 +3.2%
19 Pakistan   6,296 -14.0%
20 Malaysia   6,142 -5.3%

The American institutions that enroll the greatest number of foreign students are research universities. The University of Southern California topped the list with 6,846 foreign students, followed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Texas at Austin, Columbia University, and New York University. Among master's institutions, San Francisco State University led the nation with 2,175 foreign students, followed by San Jose State University, California State University at Fullerton, Hawaii Pacific University, and the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Many community colleges have stepped up their recruitment of foreign students. Leading in that category is Houston Community College, with 3,702 foreign students, followed by Santa Monica College, Montgomery College, De Anza College, and Borough of Manhattan Community College.

American Students Abroad

The data released about Americans in study abroad programs is a year behind the other figures. In 2003-4, 191,321 American college students enrolled in academic programs abroad, an increase of 9.6 percent over the previous year.

As in past years, the top destinations for American students were in Europe, which attracted 61 percent of American studying abroad. But officials of the Institute of International Education were encouraged by the 36 percent increase in Americans studying in Asia (even if such students make up only 7 percent of all American studying abroad). The 2003-4 academic year also saw increases in the number of Americans studying in Africa (up 18 percent over all, with a 26 percent increase for South Africa) and in the Middle East (up 62 percent, largely because of a 96 percent rise in Israel).

Despite the growth in those and other countries, only 4 of the top 10 destinations for Americans were outside Europe.

Top Destinations for Americans Studying Abroad, 2003-4

Rank Country Enrollment 1-Year % Change
1 Britain 32,237 +2%
2 Italy 21,922 +16%
3 Spain 20,080 +6%
4 France 13,718 +5%
5 Australia 11,418 +7%
6 Mexico   9,293 +6%
7 Germany   5,985 +7%
8 Ireland   5,198 +6%
9 China   4,737 +90%
10 Costa Rica   4,510 +5%

The American institutions that send the greatest number of students abroad are -- not surprisingly -- large institutions. New York University led with 2,475, followed by Michigan State University, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Texas at Austin, and Pennsylvania State University.

Many smaller institutions, however, send a larger proportion of their students abroad. The Institute of International Education identified 10 colleges at which more than 40 percent of students go abroad for study during their undergraduate careers. These institutions (in alphabetical order) are: Austin College, Carleton College, Centre College, Elon University, Grace College and Theological Seminary, Lee University, Lewis and Clark College, Lynn University, St. Olaf College and Wofford College.

Despite the increasing numbers of Americans studying abroad, a Congressionally appointed committee will release a report today calling that progress inadequate. By 2017, at least one million Americans should be studying abroad, says the report from the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program.

The federal government should create a $50 million fellowship program to encourage more students to pursue study abroad, the commission said.


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