Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
13th Nov 2023

US international enrolment passed pre-pandemic levels for “near record high” in 2022/23

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • More than 1 million international students were enrolled in US colleges and universities in 2022/23, according to the Open Doors® 2023 Report on International Educational Exchange
  • This represents a year-over-year increase of 12%, the highest rate of growth in 40 years
  • The number of new international students grew by 14%
  • All levels of higher education experienced growth
  • A fall 2023 snapshot survey suggests that that post-pandemic surge may now be levelling off for more modest incremental growth

The number of international students in US higher education in 2022/23 exceeded 1 million and increased year-over-year by 12% – the fastest rate of growth in 40 years – according to the Open Doors® 2023 Report on International Educational Exchange released today by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Institute of International Education (IIE).

International student enrolment in the United States, 1948/49–2022/23. Source: IIE/Open Doors

The exact number of foreign students in 2022/23 was 1,057,188, compared with 948,519 in 2021/22. India was the main driver of growth, sending 35% more students (268,923) than in the previous year. China remains the top market (289,526), but by the slimmest of margins, and was flat in terms of growth (-0.2%).  

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Lee Satterfield said:

“Students from around the world have chosen the United States as the top destination for international study. International education is a vehicle that promotes peace and cross-cultural connections and provides the tools necessary to address the shared challenges of our time. It continues to shape the leaders of the future, both here at home and abroad, and we look forward to doing even more to attract international students to the United States and serve as the global leader in international education.”

The 12% growth reported this year followed an increase of 4% in 2021/22, and it seems the momentum isn’t over: over 630 institutions responding to a snapshot survey conducted this fall by IIE reported 8% more international students for the 2023/24 academic year.

In addition, international student enrolment across all academic levels increased in 2022/23 – a feat last attained years ago in 2014/15.

International students now make up 6% of the total student population in US colleges and universities, up from 4.7% last year. They contributed nearly US$38 million to the US economy in 2022/23 according to the US Department of Commerce.

IIE CEO Allan E. Goodman added:

“Over one million international students studying in the US reflects a strong rebound, with the number approaching pre-pandemic levels. This reinforces that the US remains the destination of choice for international students wishing to study abroad, as it has been for more than a century.”

Commencements up 14%

Following an 80% rise last year, there were 14% more new international students in the US in 2022/23.

International student commencements in the United States, 2018/19–2022/23. Source: IIE/Open Doors

Factoring in OPT

The number of students in the Optional Training Programme (OPT) grew by 7.5% to 198,793. As always, this figure represents a note of caution in interpreting the Open Doors figures. Those students in post-study work placements via OPT are still counted as international students in the Open Doors total.

In other words, the total reported figure of 1,057,188 foreign students for 2022/23 can be understood to have two components: 198,793 of those students were actually in OPT work placements (about 19% of the total) and the remaining 858,395 students engaged in study programmes. Those 858,395 “programme enrolments” are more directly comparable to the international enrolments in other countries as they factor out the relatively large number of students in the very popular OPT programme.

IIE says of the continuing growth in OPT numbers:

“The number of international students pursuing employment opportunities following their academic studies on OPT increased by 17 percent. This is likely driven by the surge in the number of graduate students reported in both Open Doors 2022 and 2023, many of whom are opting to gain work experience in the United States.”

Graduate programmes experience the most growth

All levels of higher education received more international students in 2022/23, but graduate programmes in particular are becoming more popular: 467,027 foreign students studied for master’s, doctorate, or professional degrees, up 21% over 2021/22. While undergraduate programmes saw only 1% more international students (347,602), this is the first time there has been growth at this level in five years.

Non-degree programmes enrol relatively fewer international students but increased by 28% to 43,766 students.

New markets expanding

Of the 25 top markets for US institutions, 23 sent more students in 2022/23. The most growth was contributed by:

  • India (+35% for a total of 289,526)
  • Nigeria (+22% for a total of 17,640)
  • Japan (+19.5% for a total of 16,054)
  • Nepal (+28% for a total of 15,090)
  • Bangladesh (+28% for a total of 13,563)
  • Pakistan (+16% for a total of 10,164)
  • Ghana (+31.5% for a total of 6,468)
Comparing top places of origin for international students in the United States, 2021/22 and 2022/23. Source: IIE/Open Doors

Regional notes

Students from China and India continue to account for half of all international enrolments in higher education in the US.

Leading places of origin for international students in the United States. Source: IIE/Open Doors

While Asia remains the most important sending region, Sub-Saharan Africa is growing the fastest. More than 50,000 students came from this area of Africa in 2022/23, an increase of 18%.

Within Africa, the sending markets expanding quickly for US institutions include:

  • Nigeria (+22% for a total of 14,438)
  • Ghana (+32% for a total of 6,468)
  • Kenya (+7% for a total of 4,059)
  • Ethiopia (+12% for a total of 3,006)
  • South Africa (+14% for a total of 2,713)
  • Zimbabwe (+19% for a total of 1,789)
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo (+31% for a total of 1,660)
  • Rwanda (+12% for a total of 1,372)
  • Uganda (+20% for a total of 1,088)
  • Cameroon (+17% for a total of 1,086)

Top programmes

The top fields of study remain Math and Computer Science (+20%), Engineering (+8%), and Business and Management (+7%). These comprise more than half of all international enrolments in the US.

Fall 2023 Snapshot Survey

Over 630 US higher education institutions representing more than half of all international enrolments in the country provided feedback to IIE and ten partner institutions on current patterns in international student enrolments for the 2023/24 academic year.

Overall, these institutions reported 8% growth in enrolments, and 2% growth in commencements, across all levels in 2023/24. Enrolments are up 3% at the undergraduate level and 7% at the graduate level.

Almost all (92%) of responding institutions said they want to build on their international enrolments over the next five years. India remains the top recruitment focus. After that, at the undergraduate level, it is Vietnam (66%), China (53%), and South Korea (535 next). At the graduate level, China (46%), Vietnam (42%), and Nigeria (40%).

For additional background, please see:

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