More Foreign Students -- Everywhere

Annual report finds first significant growth in U.S. enrollments of international students since 9/11, and upturn in study abroad fueled by short-term programs and study in nontraditional locales.
November 12, 2007

The total number of international students enrolled in the United States climbed significantly in the last academic year for the first time since 2001-2. As for American students studying abroad, the number increased by 8.5 percent to 223,534 in 2005-6, with short-term programs and study in non-traditional destinations outside Europe particularly hot growth areas, according to the Institute of International Education’s annual Open Doors report, released today.

The IIE survey found that enrollments of new international students were up 10 percent and total enrollments increased 3.2 percent in 2006-7. (While study abroad figures in Open Doors are from the 2005-6 academic year, international enrollment numbers are in reference to 2006-7). The finding, said Peggy Blumenthal, executive vice president for IIE, points to the excess capacity and expanding international enrollments. (Note: This updates an earlier version of this article to correct an error.)

Enrollments in intensive English programs, for instance, grew by 30 percent over the year before -- largely fueled by a staggering 128.7 percent increase in the number of Saudi Arabian students studying in the United States, most of whom begin their studies in intensive English as part of a massive Saudi government scholarship program started in 2005. The top three sending countries -- India, China and Korea -- all showed increases in the number of students they sent to the United States, while enrollments for the No. 4 country, Japan, were again down, this year by 8.9 percent (The numbers of students from Indonesia and Kenya also declined, while enrollments from Vietnam rose 31.3 percent and, from Nepal, 27.9 percent).

Total Enrollment of International Students at Colleges in the U.S.

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%
2005-6 564,766 -0.05%
2006-7 582,984 +3.2%

Top 10 Places of Origin for Foreign Students in U.S., 2006-7

Rank and Country Total 1-Year % Change
1. India 83,833 +9.6%
2. China 67,723 +8.2%
3. South Korea 62,392 +5.7%
4. Japan 35,282 -8.9%
5. Taiwan 29,094 +4.4%
6. Canada 28,280 +0.3%
7. Mexico 13,826 -0.8%
8. Turkey 11,506 -1%
9. Thailand 8,886 +1.4%
10. Germany 8,656 -2%

For the sixth year in a row, the University of Southern California was the leading host institution, and business and engineering were the most popular fields of study, representing 18 and 15 percent of enrollments respectively. Community colleges had a 3.6 percent growth in overall international student enrollment, research universities 4.1 percent and master's institutions 2.1 percent. Bachelor's institutions had a 2.4 percent drop.

Top Destinations for International Students in the U.S., 2006-7

Rank and Institution Foreign Enrollment
Research universities  
1. U. of Southern California 7,115
2. Columbia U. 5,937
3. New York U. 5,827
4. U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 5,685
5. Purdue U., main campus 5,581
Master's Institutions  
1. San Francisco State U. 2,496
2. California State U. at Northridge 1,963
3. San Jose State U. 1,889
4. California State U. at Fullerton 1,668
5. CUNY Baruch College 1,587
Bachelor's Institutions  
1. Brigham Young U., Hawaii campus 1,201
2. SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology 1,046
3. University of Hawaii at Hilo 411
4. University of Dallas 405
5. Mount Holyoke College 403
Community Colleges  
1. Houston Community College 3,378
2. Montgomery College 3,055
3. Santa Monica College 2,851
4. De Anza College 2,155
5. CUNY Borough of Manhattan CC 1,841

Meanwhile, a “snapshot” survey of this fall’s international enrollment numbers conducted by eight different associations, including IIE and NAFSA: Association of International Educators, finds promising indicators for future growth, with 55 percent of institutions responding that new enrollments of international students increased this fall over last. “You’re seeing the gradual trend where the picture brightens marginally each time, but the overall reality remains, which is that we’re still not up to the levels we were four years ago,” said Victor C. Johnson, associate executive director for public policy at NAFSA.

While the snapshot survey suggests that international enrollments will fully rebound to the levels in place before the post-September 11 declines in next year's Open Doors survey, “We’re not ones who would dislocate our shoulders trying to pat ourselves on the back over these increases,” Johnson said.

“We’ll be able to say in ’07-08, 'We got back above where we were in '02-03' -- which is good, but we’re competing in an international market here, and nobody else has been standing still. From the point of view of where the market is, being back where you were five years before isn’t that big a deal.”

Study Abroad

Meanwhile, on the study abroad front, Europe remains the dominant destination, attracting 58.3 percent of all American students studying abroad. But numbers are up in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, with increases of 26, 14, 19 and 31 percent respectively (although, Blumenthal cautions, the increases are based on smaller populations). The growth has been especially dramatic for short-term study abroad programs -- defined as summer or January term study or any program shorter than eight weeks -- which now attract 52.8 percent of all American students studying abroad.

Asked about the implications of the growth of short-term study -- generally understood to have less of an educational impact than semester- or year-long study -- Blumenthal acknowledged, “The longer we can get our American students studying abroad, the more profound will be their understandings of other cultures and their language competencies, there’s no doubt about it. But there have been studies that show that you can get a profound experience from a short-term study.”

“A summer, well-planned and very deeply integrated into the host site, can be a very powerful learning experience,” Blumenthal said -- adding that for some students and for some institutions (community colleges especially, given the large numbers of working students and students supporting families), short-term study is the only feasible vehicle for getting large numbers of students abroad.

The top destination for Americans studying abroad was, again, the United Kingdom, followed by Italy, Spain, France and Australia (study abroad numbers in the U.K. were virtually flat, while the other four experienced moderate increases ranging from 1.5 to 5.2 percent). For No. 7, China, study abroad was up 38.2 percent, No. 12 Greece saw a 32 percent increase, No. 13 Argentina a 42.3 percent increase, No. 19 Brazil a 16.8 percent increase, and No. 20 Ecuador a 26.9 percent increase. Outside the top 20, big gains were seen in Belgium (28.5 percent), Dominican Republic (27.3 percent), Hong Kong (22.3 percent), India (19.7 percent), Israel (22.5 percent), Jordan (80.7 percent), Peru (30.9 percent), South Korea (31.7 percent), Tanzania (19.3 percent), Turkey (52.9 percent), and Vietnam (12.7 percent).

Top Destinations for Americans Studying Abroad, 2005-6

Rank and Country American Enrollments 1-Year % Change
1. United Kingdom 32,109 +0.1%
2. Italy 26,078 +4.9%
3. Spain 21,881 +5.2%
4. France 15,602 +1.5%
5. Australia 10,980 +1.5%
6. Mexico 10,022 +8.4%
7. China 8,830 +38.2%
8. Germany 6,858 +4.6%
9. Costa Rica 5,518 +12.9%
10. Ireland 5,499 +8.2%
11. Japan 4,411 +7.6%
12. Greece 3,227 +32%
13. Argentina 2,865 +42.3%
14. Czech Republic 2,846 +14.1%
15. Austria 2,792 +1.3%
16. Chile 2,578 +7.7%
17. New Zealand 2,542 -4.3%
18. South Africa 2,512 +9%
19. Brazil 2,328 +16.8%
20. Ecuador 2,171 +26.9%

The American study abroad student is still overwhelmingly likely to be white -- 83 percent of participants were white in 2005-6, a proportion unchanged from the prior year. The proportion of Asian, black and multi-racial students also stayed steady at 6.3, 3.5 and 1.2 percent respectively, while the proportion of Hispanics dipped slightly, from 5.6 to 5.4 percent. The number of underrepresented minorities "doesn’t change very much at all," Blumenthal said. "What does change it is when you make a targeted outreach and have funding for them."

The gender breakdown also stayed exactly the same this year, at 65.5 percent female and 34.5 percent male. The proportion of students studying abroad at the associate degree level likewise remained static at 2.7 percent, while the proportion studying abroad as freshmen rose from 3.1 to 3.7 percent.

In terms of raw numbers, New York University retained its spot at the top of the list of sending institutions, with 2,809 of its students studying abroad. Eighteen different colleges -- Austin, Centre, Colby, Colorado, Dickinson, Earlham, Hartwick, Kalamazoo, Lewis and Clark, Linfield, Luther, St. Olaf and Wofford Colleges, and DePauw, Elon, Lee, Transylvania and Willamette Universities -- are estimated to be sending more than 80 percent of their undergraduates abroad. IIE calculates the share of undergraduate study abroad participation by comparing the number of students abroad with the number of students graduating in the same year -- an imperfect calculation that can be thrown off by an unusually large or small graduating class, or students who study abroad more than once. Some of the rankings below therefore show study abroad participation at above 100 percent:

Colleges With Greatest Share of Undergraduates Abroad, 2005-6

Rank and Institution Undergraduates Abroad % of Undergraduates Who Study Abroad
Research Universities    
1. Yeshiva U. 650 75.1%
2. U. of Denver 623 62.8%
3. Dartmouth College 627 60.9%
4. Wake Forest U. 609 60.7%
5. U. of St. Thomas 659 60.5%
Master's Institutions    
1. Elon U. 1,056 100.7%
2. Lynn U. 314 78.7%
3. Hamline U. 330 73%
3. U. of Dubuque 162 73%
5. Warren Wilson College 107 70.4%
Bachelor's Institutions    
1. Lee U. 732 118.8%
2. Earlham College 261 117%
3. Hartwick College 300 111.9%
4. Austin College 314 99.4%
5. Centre College 259 95.9%

Meanwhile, in one final dataset released today, NAFSA calculated the economic impact of international students in the United States -- estimated at $14.5 billion in 2006-7.


Be the first to know.
Get our free daily newsletter.


Back to Top