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Record number of international students in US higher education

On 17 November, the Institute of International Education (IIE) published the 2008 Open Doors data. The data show that the number of international students in US higher education is at its all-times high, at 623 805, with an increase of 7 percent from the previous year. The increase corresponds to 41 000 students and represents the largest yearly raise in decades. Furthermore, the new enrolments are up by 10 percent thus further signalling an upward trend. The major reasons for the reported increases are largely attributed to the growing reputation and visibility of US campuses abroad (cited by 34% of responding institutions), more active recruitment efforts (32%), and a weak US dollar that made tuition costs more attractive to international students.

Some other findings regarding international students in the US include the following:

  • India is the leading place of origin for international students in the US with around 94 600 students in 2007/08 (an increase of 13% from the previous year), followed by China (81 100 students, up 20%) and South Korea (69 100 students, up 11%).
  • 61 percent of all foreign students in the US are Asian. European students account for 13 percent of the total and Latin Americans for 10 percent.
  • The University of Southern California is the leading host institution with more than 7 000 international students. New York University hosts the second highest number of foreign students (6 400). California and New York are the leading host states for international students.

Also the numbers of US students studying abroad continue to grow - they are up by 8 percent since the previous year. Most leading foreign destinations of US students witnessed growth in the number of American students, with significant increases of between 30 and 24 percent in Ecuador, South Africa, Argentina, China and India. The UK remains, however, the main destination of US students abroad.

While all of this is clearly good news to US higher education and the country as a whole, some voices of warning have already been raised: as the positive outcome is the result of serious institutional investment in international recruitment, this effort needs to continue, to ensure similarly positive growth in the next years.