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12th Nov 2012

Open Doors 2012: International student enrolment increases by nearly 6%

The 2012 Open Doors Report on international educational exchange, released today, finds that the number of international students at colleges and universities in the United States increased by nearly 6% to a record high of 764,495 in the 2011/12 academic year, while US students studying abroad increased by 1%. This year, international exchanges in all 50 states contributed US $22.7 billion to the US economy, illustrating that international education creates a positive economic and social impact for communities in the United States and around the world. Findings of the Open Doors report, published annually by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in partnership with the US Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, demonstrate that international education exchanges are at all-time high, strengthening economies and societies around the world. “Academic and intellectual exchange fuels innovation and prepares the next generation for global citizenship,”  IIE President and CEO Dr Allan E. Goodman said. “Today’s students will become future business and government leaders whose international experience will equip them to build a prosperous and more peaceful world.”

International students in the US

The strong increase in international student enrolments shows the continued conviction of international students (and parents) that a US degree is a sound investment in their future careers, a finding reinforced by results of recent IIE surveys of students overseas considering studying outside their own countries. This 2011/12 data marks the sixth consecutive year that Open Doors reported expansion in the total number of international students in US higher education; there are 31% more international students studying at US colleges and universities than there were a decade ago (see chart below). A similar increase in the number of “new” international students, those enrolling for the first time at a US college or university in autumn 2012, indicates that this growth trend is continuing. New enrolments in 2011 were up 7% from the prior year. Despite this strong growth, international students still constitute less than 4% of total US higher education enrolment. The growth is largely driven by strong increases in the number of students from China, particularly at the undergraduate level. Chinese student enrolments increased by 23% in total and by 31% at the undergraduate level. Large increases in undergraduate students from Saudi Arabia, funded by Saudi government scholarships such as the King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP), also help explain why international undergraduates studying in the United States now outnumber international graduate students, for the first time in 12 years. The chart below shares enrolment data from the academic year 2000/01 till 2011/12 with a 5.7% increase of international students in the last year, bringing the total to 764,495. opendoors2 opendoors1 "International Student Enrollment Trends, 1949/50 - 2011/12" from the Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, Institute of International Education (2012).

Economic and social impact

The continued growth in international students going to the US for higher education has a significant positive economic impact on the United States, contributing more than US $22.7 billion to the US economy, according to the US Department of Commerce. "Open Doors 2012" reports that more than 70% of all international students receive the majority of their funds from sources outside of the United States, including personal and family sources as well as assistance from their home country governments or universities. Students from around the world who study in the United States also contribute to America's scientific and technical research (i.e., STEM fields) and bring international perspectives into US classrooms, helping prepare American undergraduates for global careers, and often lead to longer-term business relationships and economic benefits.

Host states and campuses

This increased international presence has been felt across the United States, with the top 20 host universities and nine of the top ten host states with more international students than in the prior year. California hosted more than 100,000 international students for the first time this year, followed by New York, Texas, Massachusetts and Illinois. Among the top 10 destinations, Pennsylvania, Florida and Indiana had the largest percent increases, with the international student population in each state growing by close to 10%. At the institutional level, the University of Southern California has the greatest number of international students, followed by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, New York University, Purdue University and Columbia University. New York City remains the top metropolitan area for international students.

Places of origin

There were increases in the number of students from 12 of the top 25 places of origin, including:

  • Brazil;
  • China;
  • France;
  • Indonesia;
  • Iran;
  • Mexico;
  • Russia;
  • Saudi Arabia;
  • Spain;
  • United Kingdom;
  • Venezuela;
  • Vietnam.

At the same time, numbers declined from several major sending countries, including:

  • India (down 4%);
  • South Korea (down 1%);
  • Japan (down 6%).

The factors driving these declines may include global and home country economic factors, growing higher education opportunities at home, and stronger employment opportunities at home after graduation.

What continues to drive the growth in enrolments on many US campuses?

The "Fall 2012 Snapshot Survey" is a separate analysis that offers a complementary forward-looking, top-line view of international student enrolment trends contextualised by campus perspectives for the current academic year. Included among the 569 respondents were 120 of the 199 US campuses that enrol more than 1,000 international students.

The major reasons for the reported increases appear to be largely related to continued active recruitment efforts (cited by 68% of responding institutions), the growing reputation and visibility of US campuses abroad (53%), and an increased number of linkages with institutions in other countries (30%).

The campuses reporting increases also noted changes in course offerings, an increase in the number of sponsored students, and better communications with students, parents and schools in key countries as some reasons for their increased international student numbers. More than two-thirds of all responding institutions (69%, or 388) have taken special steps to ensure that the number of international students on their campuses does not decline. These steps included adding new staff or devoting additional staff time to international recruitment (cited by 61%), followed by new international programmes of collaborations (cited by 52%), new funding for international recruitment trips (41%), and engaging third-party recruiters/agents (31%). Institutions that have devoted more resources for international student recruitment trips say they have concentrated mainly on Asia, with China by far the most popular recruitment destination. Institutions also reported increased recruitment in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and in countries such as Vietnam, Brazil, Korea, India, Indonesia, and Canada. The institutions that did not take special steps mainly cited a lack of funding or resources, or reported that that their international student enrolment is stable and growing, and they are continuing with their existing recruitment strategies.

Key issues that may have impacted US campuses in the past year

Regarding China, many respondents reported challenges related to integrating the growing number of Chinese students on their campuses and in their communities, and to ensuring English proficiency levels. Campus respondents indicated that they are adding more ESL classes, increasing their level of student support services, and assisting Chinese students with academic, social and cultural issues to address these challenges. Regarding engagement with Brazil, the majority of institutions who reported closer engagement with Brazil this year indicated that they had begun new recruitment activities in Brazil, hosted more students from Brazil, engaged in partnership activities with Brazilian institutions, and conducted planning trips to Brazil. Many institutions specifically reported participating as host institutions in the Brazil government's massive Science Without Borders initiative. The United States currently hosts the largest number of students participating in this scholarship programme, according to a recent IIE report, which indicated that nearly 2,000 Brazilian undergraduate scholarship students have been placed at 238 US host institutions in 46 US states as of the autumn 2012 semester. Regarding support to students who were affected by the Arab Spring, many institutions indicated that they provided direct financial assistance, such as scholarships, tuition waivers or discounts, made short-term loans, provided free or reduced-rate housing and meal tickets, expanded personal and group counseling services, or assisted students with applying for economic hardship work authorisation through the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

US students studying abroad

Study abroad by American students has more than tripled over the past two decades, and Open Doors reported a steady rise in US study abroad over several decades. In the 2010/11 academic year, 273,996 American students studied abroad for academic credit, an increase of 1% - an all-time high. However, American students studying abroad still represent a small proportion of total enrolment in US higher education. About 14% of American students receiving Bachelor’s degrees this past year have studied abroad at some point during their undergraduate programmes, while only 1% of US students are studying abroad during a single academic year (273,996 out of the more than 20 million students enroled in US higher education). The new report shows that US students studying abroad increased in 17 of the top 25 destination countries. Five percent more students studied in China and 12% more students studied in India than in the prior year. "Open Doors 2012" reports that the leading destinations for American students are:

  • United Kingdom;
  • Italy;
  • Spain;
  • France;
  • China, which remained the fifth largest host destination for the fifth year.

More Americans studied in some of these popular European destinations, with 9% more studying in Italy, and smaller increases in study abroad to Austria, Germany, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom. There were also significant increases in the number of Americans studying in several “non-traditional” destinations outside Europe, including:

  • Brazil;
  • China;
  • Costa Rica;
  • India;
  • South Korea.

Students going to Japan dropped 33% (with programmes disrupted by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami), and a 42% decrease in US students studying in Mexico coupled with smaller declines in students studying in six of the top 25 host countries, kept the total study abroad number from showing a more robust increase in 2010/11. However, early feedback from leading US study abroad programmes suggests that growth has picked up again.

Continued growth in student mobility

Based on the steady increase in Open Doors numbers, American students have continually shown that they remain interested in getting international experience. Many campus leaders remain commited to ensuring that large numbers of their students have an international experience before graduating, and Open Doors reported that 33 campuses had study abroad participation rates of more than 70% of their student body. In an effort to increase study abroad to strategic priority countries, in Fiscal Year 2012 the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs awarded ten grants to expand capacity of American institutions to send US students abroad and the capacity of host institutions overseas to receive them. According to IIE’s Center for International Partnerships, US colleges and universities are increasingly looking to form innovative partnerships with campuses abroad to enable more of their students to study in one another’s countries, and to encourage collaboration among faculty and researchers. They are developing new study abroad programmes, with strategic links to the institutions’ international goals and curriculum. “Today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders,” said Ann Stock, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. “International education creates strong, lasting relationships between the US and emerging leaders worldwide. Students return home with new perspectives and a global skill set that will allow them to build more prosperous, stable societies.” The Open Doors Report is published by the Institute of International Education (IIE), the leading not-for-profit educational and cultural exchange organisation in the United States. IIE has conducted an annual statistical survey of the international students in the United States since 1919, in partnership with the US Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs since 1972. Open Doors also reports on numbers of international scholars at US universities; international students enrolled in pre-academic Intensive English Programmes; and on US students studying abroad. To purchase the report or view more data, please view the 2012 Fast Facts PDF or visit the IIE website.

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