Press Release

International Student Enrollments Declined by 2.4% in 2003/04

Graduate Student Enrollments Increased Slightly While Undergraduate Numbers Dropped

India Remains the Top Sending Country, with an Increase of 7%; USC remains Top Host University, with an Increase of 6%

Editor's Note: Press are invited to a briefing on the Open Doors data and to discuss the broader topic: "The Value of International Education for America" on Monday, November 15, 2004 9:30 a.m. at the National Press Club -- Washington, D.C. On November 10, IIE and colleague organizations will also release data from a joint online survey of U.S. campuses regarding Fall 04 enrollments.)


WASHINGTON D.C., November 10, 2004 -- The number of international students enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions decreased by 2.4% in 2003/04 to a total of 572,509, according to Open Doors 2004, the annual report on international academic mobility published by the Institute of International Education (IIE) with support from the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The 2.4% drop follows minimal increase the prior year (0.6% in 2002/03), preceded by five years of steady growth. The drop in enrollments in 2003/04 is the first absolute decline in foreign enrollments since 1971/72 (when enrollments dropped 3% to 140,126), although several years of minimal (less than 1%) growth were reported in the mid-1980s and mid-1990s. An increase of 2.5% in the total number of international students enrolled at the graduate level partially offset a 5% decline in the number of international undergraduate students in 2003/04. These international student enrollment changes were experienced differently by different types of institutions and in different levels and fields of study.

University of Southern California, with 6,647 international students in 2003/04, was the U.S. university with the largest number of international students for the third year in a row, enrolling 6% more international students than the previous year (with increases at both the undergraduate and graduate level). Columbia University (up 4%) moved up two places to #2, followed by Purdue University (up 2%), New York University (down 7%), and University of Texas at Austin (down 2%). While thirteen of the 25 leading U.S. host campuses in 2003/04 had an increase in the number of international students enrolled, the top 25 host campuses experienced a total net decline of 1% compared to the same universities in the prior year. (See for the list of the top 25 host institutions.)

Open Doors 2004 reports that undergraduate enrollments decreased by almost 5%, with undergraduate enrollments decreasing from each of the top 5 sending countries (China -20%, India -9%, Japan -14%, Korea -1%, and Canada -3%). Associate degree institutions reported the steepest declines in undergraduate enrollments, with a decrease of 10%, followed by institutions in the following Carnegie classifications: Masters (undergraduate enrollments down 9%), Research/Doctoral (down 5%) and Baccalaureate (down 1%). Fourteen of the 25 institutions hosting the largest numbers of international students reported a decline in the number of international undergraduate students. Since most international students come to the United States to pursue full degrees over several years, the 2003/04 reported decrease in undergraduate enrollments could lead to several years of lower enrollments unless the number of newly-admitted undergraduates rises in the coming years.

The undergraduate declines were partially offset by an increase in the total number of graduate enrollments, which increased by 2.4% in 2003/04, with wide diversity among graduate fields and institutions. The national average for graduate enrollments at larger research/doctoral institutions (which host almost 70% of all foreign graduate students in the U.S.) showed minimal change over the prior year, with an average decrease of only 0.4%. However, the 25 universities hosting the largest number of international students did not fare as well as the national average. Among the top 25 hosts, there was an average decrease of 3% international graduate students, with 15 of the institutions reporting declines, and a few individual research universities reporting declines as steep as 23%. Graduate student enrollments at the smaller research/doctoral institutions held steady (0.1% increase), and the Masters institutions saw increases of 12% in their graduate student numbers. These increases, along with additional increases in the numbers of graduate students at "other" graduate institutions (such as medical, fine arts, and law) - which had a combined increase of 8% -- account for the overall increase in the international graduate student enrollments. By field of study across all types of institutions, there were increases in the numbers of graduate students in the fields of Business and Management (8.0%), Physical and Life Sciences (3.3%), Social Sciences (2.2%), Fine and Applied Arts (6.0%), Education (7.0%), and Agriculture (2.5%).

The overall decline in international students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities has been attributed to a variety of reasons, including real and perceived difficulties in obtaining student visas (especially in scientific and technical fields), rising U.S. tuition costs, vigorous recruitment activities by other English-speaking nations, and perceptions abroad that international students may no longer be welcome in the U.S.

Commenting on the Open Doors findings, Patricia S. Harrison, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, says, "The United States remains the best place in the world to seek the benefits of higher education, and we are working in a concerted way at the Department of State and in related agencies to convince international students that they are welcome here. The temporary decline in student numbers relates to a number of factors, including the need to make sure our borders are secure, but I am confident that both the situation and the numbers will improve." Student-visa issuances for January through June 2004 increased by eleven percent over the same six-month period in 2003, according to Mrs. Harrison, who commented, "That's certainly a good sign. It suggests that international students understand the very real need we had to put in place systems to screen applicants for entry into the United States, systems that provide everyone -- including foreign visitors -- with a greater sense of security."

Allan Goodman, President and CEO of IIE said, "The decrease in number of international students this year is explained by a variety of factors affecting students differently in different sending countries, and includes a wider range of educational opportunities at home, stiff competition from other host countries, rising U.S. tuition costs, and the complex process of adjustment to tighter screening of visa applicants. While U.S. embassies abroad expand their efforts to communicate these policies and expedite the review process, higher education institutions also are grappling with the issue and finding innovative ways to reach out to potential applicants. It is clearly in America's long-term national security interest to welcome international students to come here to study. International students in U.S. classrooms widen the perspectives of their U.S. classmates, contribute to vital research activities, strengthen the local economies in which they live, and build lasting ties between their home countries and the United States."

Enrollment patterns continued to vary by countries of origin. India remains the largest sending country origin for the 3rd year, and its numbers climbed by 7% over the prior year, to a total of 79,736 in 2003/04, offsetting decreases from a number of other countries which experienced sharp declines. However, India's rate of increase in 2003/04 has slowed from the prior year's dramatic 12% growth. Among the leading five places of origin, total enrollments fell by 5% for students from China (still the second largest sending country with 61,765) and fell by 11% for Japan (#4 with 40,835). Numbers of students rose by approximately 2% from Republic of Korea (#3 with 52,484) and Canada (#5 with 27,017). With a decrease of 7% in students studying in U.S. institutions, Taiwan dropped to 6th place (with 26,178), moving Canada up to become the only non-Asian country among the top five. Additional sharp decreases in Asian student enrollments were reported from Thailand (down 10.5% to 8,937), Indonesia (down 15% to 8,880), Hong Kong (down 9% to 7,353) and Pakistan (down 10% to 7,325).

Despite decreases from many Asian places of origin and an overall decline of 3%, Asia remains the largest sending region by a wide margin - almost 57% of international students studying in the U.S. still come from Asia. There were substantial declines in the numbers of students from Europe (down 5%) and the Middle East (down 9%). However, these declines were partially offset by increases in student enrollments from North America (Canadian enrollments were up 2%) and from Latin America and Africa (up 1% each). Nigerian enrollments rose for the eighth year in a row (up 6% from the prior year), bringing it into the list of top 20 sending countries, while enrollments from Kenya fell 6%, now 15th among top sending countries. Russia's decline of 11% dropped its ranking to #22, with its enrollments dropping back to levels last seen in the mid 1990s.

Students from the Middle East continued to decrease substantially, although this 9% rate of decrease in 2003/04 is slightly less than the 10% decline for 2002/03. While major decreases have been reported in the numbers of students from many Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia (down 16% to 3,521), Kuwait (down 17% to 1,846), Jordan (down 15% to 1,853), Cyprus (down 15% to 1, 562), and the United Arab Emirates (down 30% to 1,248), students from the Middle East continue to account for approximately 6% of all international students enrolled in U.S. higher education. The enrollment from the largest Middle Eastern sender, Turkey (#8 with 11,398) has remained relatively steady, with a decrease of only 2% this year. Significant declines from other Middle Eastern countries only marginally affected the overall student totals, since absolute numbers of students coming from these countries are relatively small.

International students brought over $13 billion dollars to the U.S. economy in money spent on tuition, living expenses, and related costs, according to the Department of Commerce. Nearly 75% of all international students reported that their primary source of funding comes from personal and family sources or other sources outside of the United States. The percent of students relying primarily on personal and family funding increased by over one percent to 67% of international students in 2003/04. Rising tuition costs and weak economies in some countries abroad places a substantial economic burden on students and their families, and makes cheaper study opportunities at home and elsewhere a more attractive option, contributing to the overall decline in U.S. enrollments. Nevertheless, Department of Commerce data ranks U.S. higher education as the among the top 10 largest service sector exports.

Open Doors 2004 also reports that host states and cities in the U.S. fared differently in their enrollment shifts. California remains the leading host state with 77,186 international students, despite a decrease of nearly 3,000 students (4%). Decreases in student enrollment figures affected leading states across the country, with 16 of the top 20 host state showing declines this year. The New York City Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) continues to host more foreign students than any other metropolitan area in the U.S., with 54,424 total, followed by the Los Angeles MSA, at 35,062.

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 88%. 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

The full Open Doors 2004 report will be available from IIE Books in early 2005 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 2004 can be ordered from the IIE Online Bookstore: A limited number of review copies of the report will be available to the press from IIE's media relations counsel, Halstead Communications. Call Deborah Gardner/Heidi Reinholdt at 212-734-2190, or e-mail

Highlights from Open Doors 2004: Note: Additional statistics are available on IIE's website at

India is the leading place of origin for international students (79,736, up 7%), followed by #2 China (61,765, down 5%), #3 Korea (52,484, up 2%), #4 Japan (40,835, down 11%), #5 Canada (27,017, up 2%), #6 Taiwan (26,178, down 7%), #7 Mexico (13,329, up 4%), #8 Turkey (11,398, down 2%), #9 Thailand (8,937, down 11%), #10 Indonesia (8,880, down 15%), #11 Germany (8,745, down 6%), #12 United Kingdom (8,439, up 1%), #13, Brazil (7,799, down 7%), #14 Colombia (7,533, down 3%), #15 Kenya (7,381, down 6%).

Asian students comprise over half (57%) of all international enrollments, followed by students from Europe (13%), Latin America (12%), Africa (7%), the Middle East (6%), North America (5%) and Oceania (1%).

University of Southern California hosts the largest number of international students: For the third consecutive year, the University of Southern California was the leading host institution (6,647, with an increase of 377 international students from the previous year). Columbia University's foreign enrollment (5,362, an increase of 214) was the second largest, followed by Purdue University Main Campus (5,094), New York University (5,070), University of Texas at Austin (4,827), and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (4,769). In 2003/04, one hundred and forty three U.S. colleges and universities hosted 1,000 or more international students - with 27 of these campuses hosting more than 3,000 international students each.

California is the leading host state for international students (down 4% to 77,186), followed by New York (down 1% to 63,313), Texas (down 1% to 45,150), Massachusetts (down 5% to 28,634), and Florida (down 5% to 25,861). Of the 20 leading hosting states, increases in foreign enrollments were seen only in Ohio (up .5% to 18,770), Indiana (0.4%, to 13,586), Minnesota (up 2% to 9,142), and North Carolina (up 3% to 8,826).

New York City has more international students than any other metropolitan area in the nation, with 52,424 total. The Los Angeles area hosts the second highest number of foreign students (35,062) followed by Boston (24,266), Washington DC (19,552), Chicago (16,061), San Francisco (13,460), Dallas-Ft. Worth (13,448), Philadelphia (12,593), Miami (11,900) and Houston (9,778).

The most popular fields of study for international students in the U.S. are business and management (19%), engineering (17%) and mathematics and computer sciences (12%). After two years of very large growth, the number of international students studying mathematics and computer sciences has declined 6% in each of the past two years. The Social Sciences (10%) and Physical and Life Sciences (8%) have seen increased growth of 18% and 2% respectively.

Funds from home: International students contribute approximately $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. 67% 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. 


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