Press Release

American Students Study Abroad in Growing Numbers

Despite economic and security concerns post-Sept 11, numbers continue to rise

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 17, 2003 -- Despite a weak economy and post-9/11 concerns, American students continue to regard study abroad as a critical component of their higher education experience. The number of U.S. university-level students receiving credit for study abroad in 2001/02 increased 4.4% from the previous year, reaching a record total of 160,920, according to Open Doors 2003, the annual report on international education published by the Institute of International Education (IIE) with funding from the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Findings from the report will be discussed at a press briefing today at the National Press Club in Washington, DC in conjunction with the nationwide observance of International Education Week. (See for complete report).

Open Doors 2003 reports that the 4.4% increase in U.S. students abroad in academic year 2001/02, while not as steep a growth rate as the previous year’s 7.4% increase, is still a strong indicator of the tremendous interest in study abroad, especially given the challenging economic and geopolitical context in which students were making their study abroad decisions. On the whole, study abroad has been increasing dramatically in recent years, with four years of double-digit growth in the “boom” years of the late 1990s. Since 1991/92, the number of students studying abroad has more than doubled (from 71,154 to 160,920, an increase of 126%).

A new IIE on-line survey conducted last month also indicates that Study Abroad is more popular than ever among U.S. students. Reporting on the change in the number of U.S. students who are currently studying abroad in Fall 2003 (as compared to the same time last year), 68% (158) of the 235 campus study abroad professionals responding noted the number of students studying abroad had either continued to increase or remained the same. Fifty percent (116) of the respondents reported an increase in the number of students currently studying abroad (up from 45% reporting increases in a similar survey in Fall 2002), and an additional 18% (42) reported no noticeable change. Of the 50% reporting an increase, 19% (43) reported a slight increase of 10% or less, 20% (47) reported increases of 11-30%, and 11% (26) have seen substantial increases of more than 30%. Thirty one percent of respondents reported a decline in study abroad this fall, with only 4% of those reporting a substantial drop (more than 30%) in the number of students studying abroad. Those who report declines blame mainly the economy, tuition increases, and parents’ concerns about safety. Campus professionals have reported increased interest in study abroad in each of the years following 9/11, according to IIE surveys conducted in Fall 2001 and 2002 (see Open Doors website for full reports).

In response to the latest study abroad figures, Patricia S. Harrison, Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, which funds the Open Doors report said, "We are gratified by the continuing increase in the number of U.S. students studying abroad. A 4.4% growth is extremely encouraging, and shows that American students continue to recognize that preparation for success in a global future needs to include overseas study. And the reports from American campuses suggest that the trend is toward even greater growth ahead. Overall, the numbers demonstrate quite clearly that students realize that the world of tomorrow will require everyone to be globally aware and conversant."

The number of students going to study in less traditional destinations continues to grow. In 2001/02, for the first time, the number of American students going to the United Kingdom fell slightly (by 0.5%), although with over 30,000 U.S. students, the UK is still the leading destination. Spain surpassed Italy this year to become the second-leading destination, with an increase of 7% to 17,176 U.S. students, while Italy, now at #3, increased by 6.5% to 17,169. Among the countries with the most dramatic increases were China (#9, up 33% to 3,911), Japan (#11, up 21% to 3,168), Czech Republic (#15, up 30% to 1,659), South Africa (#17, up 32% to 1,456), Brazil (#23 up 40% to 1,064), and Thailand (#29, up 69% to 836).

IIE is working with campuses and US government and private sponsors to reduce the financial hurdles for study abroad, and to assist students in acquiring skills and experience in countries and areas of the world critical to the future security of our nation. The Fulbright Student Program, the U.S. government’s premier public diplomacy exchange program, which IIE has administered on behalf of the U.S. State Department for over 56 years, annually sends over 1,000 American students to over 140 countries around the world, providing funding for career-launching study or research abroad to be conducted after graduation from an accredited university. In 2001, Congress created the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program for undergraduates, to provide scholarships of up to $5,000 for study abroad to students receiving federal financial aid. The program ( is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and administered by IIE. Nearly 6,500 students have applied for Gilman Scholarships to date, and the program has assisted over 850 students from a wide range of economic and ethnic backgrounds to go to a wide variety of non-traditional destinations.

The National Security Education Program David L. Boren Undergraduate Scholarships ( have enabled more than 1,750 students to study over 60 languages in over 65 countries since 1994. NSEP focuses on less commonly taught languages and countries of the world underrepresented in study abroad. IIE’s Freeman Awards for Study in Asia program ( assists financially needy U.S. undergraduates who wish to study in East or Southeast Asia. This program has already provided scholarships to over 1,500 students, and will offer support to an additional 1,100 U.S. students by 2005. The impact of the Freeman-ASIA grants are specifically reflected in the strong increases in the number of US students going to China and Japan in recent years. All of these scholarship programs are serving to increase students’ language proficiency and encourage a growing awareness of cultures outside of English-speaking countries and Western Europe.

"The continuing and strong increase in study abroad is especially important against the backdrop of today's headlines. Having our successor generation learn more about other countries and societies -- while serving as cultural ambassadors to their peers -- enables young Americans to contribute directly to creating a more peaceful world," commented IIE President Allan E. Goodman.

Open Doors 2003 indicates that most students continue to study abroad for shorter sojourns (many for less than eight weeks), with more than 50% of U.S. undergraduates and masters degree students electing summer, January term, internships, and other short-term programs instead of academic year or semester programs. Most American students who studied abroad in 2001/02 (91%) did so for one semester or less.

Open Doors 2003 reports that twenty-five U.S. campuses, primarily large research institutions, awarded academic credit for study abroad last year to more than 1,000 of their students. New York University sent the most students abroad (1,872) in 2001/02, followed by Michigan State University (1,819), University of Texas at Austin (1,591), University of Pennsylvania (1,461), Georgetown University (1,412), University of Wisconsin at Madison (1,340), Boston University (1,330), University of Arizona (1,326), Penn State-University Park (1,270), and University of Georgia (1,268).

However, some of the smaller institutions report that a much higher proportion of their students study abroad. Open Doors 2003 also lists campuses according to the percentage of their students who study overseas at some point in their four-year college careers (participation rate). The following colleges are the leaders in study abroad participation, each reporting that over 80% of their students study abroad. In alphabetical order they are: Austin College, Berea College, Carleton College, Chatham College, Dickinson College, Earlham College, Eckerd College, Elon College, Kalamazoo College, Lawrence University, Lewis and Clark College, Linfield College, Marlboro College, Saint Olaf College, Union College, and Wofford College.

To make study abroad information more accessible to a wider range of students, IIE offers an interactive website called IIE Passport ( with over 5,000 study abroad and learning travel opportunities for participants of all ages available worldwide. The service enables students to identify programs that meet their needs, and the listings include data on up to 35 fields, including location, field of study, cost, college credit availability, and eligibility for scholarships. IIE has also expanded its partnership with Educational Directories Unlimited to enhance its annual study abroad program directories, coming out in early 2004 under their new titles “IIEPassport: Academic Year Abroad” and “IIEPassport: Short Term Study Abroad”. In addition, the IIENetwork continues to strengthen its services and online community for international educators with the growth of its interactive web-based resource for members,, which also showcases the Study Abroad programs that have received IIE’s Andrew Heiskell Awards for Innovation in International Education in its Best Practices section.

Highlights of Study Abroad Data from Open Doors 2003: (Additional statistics are available on IIE’s website at

The number of U.S. students going to less traditional destinations remains high. While Europe (with 63% of total students reported) continues to be the most popular region for U.S. students pursuing education abroad – 100,668 students, up 4% this year – other regions are eliciting strong interest from United States students. The percentage of all study abroad students going to Latin America has more than doubled since 1985, from 7% the first year of the survey to 15% this year, and the number of students going to Latin America increased by 4% to 23,300 this year. Other regions that have seen an increase include Oceania (up 18%, 10,952) Africa (up 2%, 4,633), and Asia (up 18%, 10,901). Following the previous year’s decline, the number of students going to North America (Canada and Bermuda) increased this year by 13% to 1,251, and those going to the Middle East declined by 21% to 1,310.

Many countries, particularly in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, saw large increases in the number of American students they hosted in 2001/02. Countries with large increases included: Japan (3,168, up 21%), South Africa (1,456, up 32%), Cuba (1,279, up 41%), Brazil (1,064, up 40%), Belgium, (867, up 30%), Thailand (836, up 69%), Korea (631, up 21%), Peru (522, up 47%), Singapore (231, up 97%), Senegal (211, up 51%), and El Salvador (145, up 86%).

Most of the top 20 host countries experienced increased U.S. enrollment except for the United Kingdom, Germany, Mexico, and Austria. Spain surpassed Italy as the second-leading destination for U.S. students abroad. Countries hosting the most American students are: United Kingdom (30,143, down less than 1%), Spain (17,176, up 7%), Italy (17,169 up 7%), France (12,274, up 3%), Australia (9,456, up 17%), Mexico (8,078, down 3%), Germany (4,856, down 5%), Ireland (4,375, up 10%), China (3,911, up 33%), Costa Rica (3,781, up 4%), Japan (3,168, up 21%), Austria (2,180, down 9%), Greece (1,856, up 6%), Netherlands (1,676, up 3%), Czech Republic (1,659, up 30%), Chile (1,492, up 21%), South Africa (1,456, up 32%), Ecuador (1,425 up 9%), New Zealand (1,326 up 18%), and Cuba (1,279 up 41%). In 2001/02, The leading fields of study for Americans abroad were social science (22%), business and management (18%), humanities (14%), fine or applied arts (9%), and foreign languages (9%), followed by physical sciences (8%) education (4%), health sciences (3%), engineering (3%), and math or computer science (2%). # # #

The Open Doors 2003 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 foreign students in the United States since 1949, and has been collecting study abroad figures since 1986. A grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs underwrites the research and report. In addition to study abroad, separate surveys are conducted to generate statistics on foreign scholars, and foreign students enrolled in pre-academic Intensive English Programs.

Open Doors 2003 will available from IIE Books in January 2004 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:


Media Contact

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Director, Public Affairs
Tel: +1 212.984.5380

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Public Affairs
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IIE Experts

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

Dr. Allan E. Goodman
President and CEO

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Senior Counselor to the President