Press Release

International Student Enrollment Growth Slows in 2002/2003, Large Gains from Leading Countries Offset Numerous Decreases

India Remains the Top Sending Country; IIE Online Survey Suggests Visa Application Process and Sluggish Global Economy are Affecting Fall 2003 Enrollments

Editor's Note: Press are invited to a briefing on the Open Doors data and to discuss the broader topic: "Understanding Student Mobility in a Global Context"

Monday, November 17, 2003
9:30 a.m. -- National Press Club -- Washington, D.C.

Read a full description of the event and register >



WASHINGTON D.C., November 3, 2003 -- After five years of steady growth, the number of international students attending colleges and universities in the United States in 2002/03 showed only a slight increase over the prior year, up less than 1%, bringing the 2002-03 total to 586,323, according to Open Doors 2003, the annual report on international education published by the Institute of International Education (IIE) with support from the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

"The Bureau is pleased to support the annual publication of Open Doors," said Patricia Harrison, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. "America is a welcoming nation and keeping our doors open to men and women of good will from every part of the globe is vital to mutual understanding and to our own well-being."

Although there were significant decreases in the number of students from some countries in 2002/03, several major sending countries saw strong increases, including India, Korea and Kenya. Numbers from China also increased, but at a reduced rate. For the second consecutive year, India, which increased by 12% to 74,603 students, was the leading country of origin for international students in the United States, followed by China (64,757, up 2%) and Korea (up 5% to 51,519). Mexico, at #7, increased by 2% to 12,801 students, Hong Kong, at #15, increased by 4% to 8,076, and Kenya, at #16, increased by 11% to 7,862. Canada, #6 with 26,513, was unchanged. Of the top 20 sending countries, thirteen countries experienced a decrease in enrollment - with significant decreases coming from Indonesia (down 10% to 10,432), Thailand (down 14% to 9,982), and Malaysia (down 11% to 6,595). Students from the Middle East were down 10% from the previous year, with decreases of 25% each from Saudi Arabia (4,175) and Kuwait (2,212) and 15% from the United Arab Emirates (1,792). The combined total number of students coming from all countries in the Middle East is just 34,803, down from 38,545 in the prior year.

IIE is also releasing findings from a recent online survey of international education professionals regarding what they are seeing on campus this fall (2003), to complement the more comprehensive Open Doors census for 2002-03. The findings of the online survey would indicate that new security procedures and economic factors do seem to be having some impact on foreign student enrollments, with 46% of respondents reporting some declines in their total international student enrollments. Most respondents (59%) attribute these declines to new visa applications processes, while an additional 21% cite financial difficulties as the primary cause. Others report it as a combination of several factors, including competition from other host countries. In addition, 45% of respondents report a decline in the number of newly admitted international students for Fall 2003 compared to new students in Fall 2002.

Despite these declines, however, it is important to note that 54% of respondents reported either an increase in foreign student enrollments (33%) or no change (21%), reinforcing the view that there is an uneven effect that is being felt strongly by some campuses and some fields and more modestly or not at all by others. A large number of respondents have seen increases in the number of students coming from several major sending countries, including India (32% reporting an increase), Korea (32%), and Kenya (19%), leading some of the approximately 275 educators who responded to this IIE online survey to assert that, in many cases, the perception of possible problems with new visa policies may have a stronger impact on some students than the policies themselves. A large number of respondents reported especially steep declines in new students from Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia (29%), Pakistan (28%), and the United Arab Emirates (23%). (See for complete online survey and Open Doors 2003 data).

According to Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO of the Institute of International Education, "International educational exchange has never been more important for the United States. Foreign students bring intellectual, economic and cultural benefits to our campuses and communities.

"These figures reflect the impact of a number of factors - a weakened economic situation affecting many countries, student and family concerns about safety and possible delays associated with processing student visas, and an increase in competition for foreign students from other host countries. Despite these difficulties, the United States remains the premier destination for foreign students. At the national, state, and campus level, we need to take concerted action to insure that we retain that position," Dr. Goodman said.

Open Doors 2003 reports that the 2002/03 increase of less than one percent in international enrollment in U.S. colleges and universities was the smallest increase since 1995/96, and follows five consecutive years of steady growth. Over the past 20 years, since 1982/83, the number of international students has increased by 74%. However, in seven of those years, the number has increased by less than 1%, as various factors, including political events, economic conditions, training needs, and in-country education capacity, have affected student flows from leading places of origin.

Building on dramatic enrollment increases for six years in a row, India again surpassed China as the leading sending country, and now represents 13% of the total number of international students in the United States. China, which sent no students to the United States from the 1950's until 1979, rose to become the leading sender in 1988/89 and remained at #1 for five years until it was displaced by Japan. Japan then remained the leading sender from 1994/95 until 1998/99, but has fallen to fourth due to surges in enrollments from India, China and the Republic of Korea while numbers from Japan remained virtually flat for the past five years, due in part to economic conditions. This year's 2% decline in students from Japan marked the first drop in the number of students from that country since 1998. The Republic of Korea is now the third-leading sender, with four years of large increases following decreases in the late 1990s reflecting in part Korea's shifting economic picture.

Dramatic changes in the enrollment levels from individual countries, which in turn have produced peaks and plateaus in overall enrollment totals, have been a feature of U.S. international enrollments since IIE began publishing Open Doors fifty years ago. Of particular note in looking at historic trends is that 20 years ago, in 1982/83, Iran was the leading country of origin, with 26,760 students in the United States (compared to 2,258 in 2002/03), and Nigeria and Venezuela were third and fourth, due in large part to the oil wealth in these nations and their use of that wealth to create scholarship programs supporting international study. None of these three countries are in the top 20 sending countries today.

Open Doors 2003 reports that international students contribute nearly $12 billion dollars to the U.S. economy in money spent on tuition, living expenses, and related costs. Nearly 75% of all international student funding comes from personal and family sources or other sources outside of the United States. Department of Commerce data describe U.S. higher education as the country's fifth largest service sector export.

Open Doors 2003 reports that the University of Southern California continues to be the leading host institution in the United States, with 6,270 international students, and California is the leading host state. The New York City Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) continues to host more foreign students than any other metropolitan area in the U.S., with 36,086 total, as the home of both NYU (with 5,454) and Columbia University (with 5,148), the nation's second and third leading host campuses.

In a separate survey of Intensive English Programs, Open Doors reports dramatic decreases in the number of international students who were enrolled in these programs in the 2002 calendar year. The 51,179 students reported by IEPs in 2002 (a mix of university and college-affiliated programs as well as for-profit entities that offer English language training) represent a 35% decrease from the 78,521 students that were here on such programs in 2001, and a 40% decrease over two years. These Intensive English Programs, which often involve different students than those studying in degree programs, have been the hardest hit. This IEP survey was conducted for the fourth year by IIE in conjunction with two leading professional intensive English associations, AAIEP and UCIEP.

Highlights from Open Doors 2003: Note: Additional statistics are available on IIE's website at

India is the leading place of origin for international students (74,603, up 12%), followed by #2 China (64,757, up 2%), #3 Korea (51,519, up 5%), #4 Japan (45,960, down 2%), #5 Taiwan (28,017, down 3%), #6 Canada (26,513, unchanged), #7 Mexico (12,801, up 2%), #8 Turkey (11,601, down 4%), #9 Indonesia (10,432, down 10%), #10 Thailand (9,982, down 14%), #11 Germany (9,302, down 3%), #12 Brazil (8,388, down 7%), #13 UK (8,326, down 1%), #14 Pakistan (8,123, down 6%), and #15 Hong Kong (8,076, up 4%).

Asian students comprise over half (51%) of all international enrollments, followed by students from Europe (13%), Latin America (12%), Africa (7%), the Middle East (6%), North America and Oceania (5%).

University of Southern California first: For the second consecutive year, the University of Southern California was the leading host institution (6,270). New York University's foreign student enrollment (5,454) was the second largest, followed by Columbia University (5,148), Purdue University Main Campus (5,105), University of Texas at Austin (4,926), and the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor (4,601). In 2002/03, one hundred and fifty-three U.S. colleges and universities hosted 1,000 or more international students - three more than last year -- and 29 of these campuses hosted more than 3,000 international students each.

California is the leading host state for international students (up 2% to 80,487), followed by New York (up 3% to 63,773), Texas (up 3% to 45,672), Massachusetts (up less than 1% to 30,039), and Florida (down 4% to 27,270). Sixth-place Illinois had the strongest growth in international student enrollment from 2001/02 to 2002/03 (up 6% to 27,116).

New York City has more international students than any other metropolitan area in the nation, with 36,086 total. The Los Angeles area hosts the second highest number of foreign students (29,486), followed by Boston (24,160), Washington DC (20,678), Chicago (17,319), Philadelphia (11,373), San Jose (11,070), Houston (10,526), Dallas (10,199), and San Francisco (8,393). In particular, the San Jose metropolitan area showed significant growth, up 20% from the previous year and moving from the eighth-leading metropolitan area to seventh place.

The most popular fields of study for international students in the U.S. are business and management (20%) and engineering (17%). After two years of very large growth, the number of international students studying mathematics and computer sciences has decreased by 6%, although these students still make up 12% of the total.

Funds from home: International students contribute nearly $12 billion dollars to the U.S. economy, through their expenditure on tuition and living expenses. Department of Commerce data describe U.S. higher education as the country's fifth largest service sector export, as these students bring money into the national economy and provide revenue to their host states for living expenses, including room/board, books and supplies, transportation, health insurance, support for accompanying family members, and other miscellaneous items. 66% of all international students receive the majority of their funds from family and personal sources, and, when other sources of funding from their home countries, including assistance from their home country governments or universities, are added in, a total of nearly 75% of all international student funding comes from sources outside of the United States.

The Open Doors report is published by the Institute of International Education, the leading not-for-profit educational and cultural exchange organization in the United States. IIE has conducted the annual statistical survey of the international students in the United States since 1949, and with support from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs since the early 1970s. The census is based on a survey of over 2,700 accredited U.S. institutions, with a response rate of approximately 90%. Open Doors also reports on international scholars at U.S. universities and international students enrolled in pre-academic Intensive English Programs, as well as U.S. students studying abroad, based on separate surveys. A full press kit and further details on the surveys and their findings can be accessed on # # #

Open Doors 2003 is available from IIE Books for $42.95. The new edition provides approximately 100 pages of data and graphics highlighting key facts and trends in international student and faculty flows. Open Doors 2003 can be ordered from the IIE Online Bookstore: Custom research reports based on the most currently available international student data are available for a fee from IIE Research at 212-984-5348. A limited number of review copies of the report are available to the press from IIE's media relations counsel, Halstead Communications. Call Deborah Gardner/Heidi Reinholdt at 212-734-2190, or e-mail



Media Contact

Sharon Witherell
Director, Public Affairs
Tel: +1 212.984.5380

Shana Childs
Public Affairs
Tel: +1 212.984.5360

IIE Experts

IIE experts on international education are available for interviews or speaking engagements.

Dr. Allan E. Goodman
President and CEO

Peggy Blumenthal 
Senior Counselor to the President