Press Release

Study Abroad Surging Among U.S. Students

After Sept 11th, interest in study abroad continues to grow rapidly


WASHINGTON D.C., November 15, 2004 -- More than ever, American students now recognize the importance of study abroad in a globally interdependent world. In the first full academic year after the 9/11 attacks (academic year 2002/03), the number of U.S. higher education students receiving credit for study abroad increased sharply by 8.5% from the previous year, reaching a record total of 174,629, according to Open Doors 2004, 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 on November 15th at the National Press Club in Washington, DC in conjunction with the nationwide observance of International Education Week. (See for additional statistics and analysis from Open Doors 2004, including data on international student enrollment on U.S. campuses, released on November 10).

The 8.5% increase in U.S. students receiving credit for study abroad in academic year 2002/03 represents significantly stronger growth than the previous year's 4.4 % increase. This increase remains a strong indicator of the tremendous interest in study abroad, both in spite of and in response to the changing geopolitical climate following 9/11. As study abroad opportunities have become more plentiful, varied and more affordable, the number of students taking advantage of an academic experience abroad has increased dramatically. Since 1991/92, the number of students studying abroad for credit has more than doubled (from 71,154 to 174,629, an increase of 145%).

"I'm gratified to see the continued growth in the numbers of American students studying overseas," said Patricia Harrison, the State Department's Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs. "As the new Open Doors report shows, more students are studying abroad than ever before, a sign that young Americans clearly recognize the crucial role they will play in leading our nation into a world even more interdependent than it is today. By encouraging more students to participate in educational opportunities abroad, U.S. colleges and universities and the federal government through programs like the Gilman Scholarships and the Fulbright Fellowships help expand our citizens' awareness of global issues and lay the groundwork for the kind of mutual understanding that builds a better future for all of us."

According to IIE President Allan Goodman, "These increasing numbers show that American students are continuing to reach out to the rest of the world, to experience other cultures firsthand, and to become more engaged in international affairs. However, those who do so are still a very small proportion of all U.S. students. 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. Graduating students with a global vision and global competencies will be key to America's economic success in the 21st century and to its ability to provide global leadership in the challenging times ahead."

Open Doors data show a continued increase in the diversity of destinations for U.S. study abroad. Of the leading 20 destinations in 2002/03, seven of the 11 destinations with double-digit increases were outside of Western Europe. While 47% of all U.S. students abroad study in the leading four destinations (all of which are in Western Europe), 11 of the leading 20 destinations are places outside of Western Europe. Among the Americans studying in those leading 20 destinations, 64% studied in places where English is not the primary language of the host country.

While interest in non-traditional destinations continues to grow, the number of students studying in Asia in 2002/03 declined sharply, due to the SARS epidemic, which closed down programs in Spring and Summer 2003. American students studying in Asia (9,751) declined 11%, with dramatic decreases in study abroad enrollment in China (2,493, down 36%), Hong Kong (458, down 9%) and Taiwan (148, down 15%). However, increases were seen in students going to Asian countries not affected by SARS, Japan (3,457, up 9%) and Korea (739, up 17%). An IIE online survey last fall found that most programs in China and the surrounding region have now reopened.

Study abroad in European countries increased by 9% this year to 109,907. The United Kingdom continues to be the leading destination for U.S. students (31,706, up 5%) followed by Italy (18,936, up 10%), up from third place last year, and Spain (18,865, up 10%). France remained the 4th largest host country, followed by two countries outside of Western Europe (Australia and Mexico). Open Doors reports notable increases in students going to Eastern Europe (5,017, up 21%), including the Czech Republic (1,997, up 20%), Russia (1,521, up 20%) and Hungary (562, up 24%). Numbers of U.S. students studying in Latin America also continued to rise (up 14% to 26,643), with Mexico continuing to be the largest host country in the region (up 9% to 8,775). Americans studying in the Middle East were down by 51% (to 648 students) reflecting a sharp decline in the number of students studying in the largest host country in the region, Israel (340, down 67%). However, U.S. enrollments in Turkey grew sharply (228, up 77%) and in Northern Africa (495, up 15%), where there was a 26% increase in the number of students studying in Egypt (to 303), and a 12% increase in students studying Morocco (to 191). Numbers of American students studying in Australia continued to expand (10,691, up 13%). Numbers were also up sharply in New Zealand (1,917, up 45%), with Oceania (12,749, up 16%) being the world region with the strongest growth in U.S. students abroad.

Open Doors data show that American students continue to study abroad in larger numbers but for shorter time periods, with more than 50% of U.S. undergraduates and masters degree students electing summer, January term, and other programs of 8 weeks or less, with a continued decline in popularity of longer term programs. The vast majority of American students who studied abroad in 2002/03 (92%) did so for one semester or less. Only 7% study abroad for a full academic year, compared to 18% in 1985/86, with 9% studying overseas in very short programs (eight weeks or less) usually held between semesters. The growth in these short-term programs, often integrated in the home campus curriculum, allows more students who were previously unable to study abroad due to financial or curricular constraints to participate in an international education experience.

Open Doors 2004 reports that 30 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 (2,061), followed by the University of California-Los Angeles (1,917), Michigan State University (1,864), University of Texas at Austin (1,654), University of Arizona (1,466), University of Wisconsin-Madison (1,441), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1,426), University of Georgia (1,401), Indiana University at Bloomington (1,379), and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1,377).

However, many smaller institutions report sending a much higher proportion of their students abroad. Open Doors 2004 also provides data on study abroad participation, and lists those campuses that send very high proportions of their students abroad for some period during their undergraduate career. The top ten campuses, each sending more than 80% of their students abroad, are (in alphabetical order): Austin College, Centre College, Colby College, DePauw University, Dickinson College, Eckerd College, Elon University, Lynn University, Lyon College, and St. Olaf College.

To make study abroad information more accessible to a wider range of students, IIE offers an interactive website called IIE Passport ( with over 6,000 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 also publishes two directories annually "IIE Passport: 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.

On behalf of the U.S. government and private foundations, IIE administers several programs that provide funding for American students to study abroad. These include the Fulbright Student Program and the Gilman Scholarships for the U.S. Department of State, the National Security Education Program David L. Boren Undergraduate Scholarship, and the Freeman Awards for Study in Asia. The Institute has seen continued strong interest in these programs with applications increasing sharply since 2001, and with students applying increasingly for less traditional study abroad destinations. For example, the number of students applying for Gilman Scholarships to study in the Middle East more than doubled in 2004, and applications for the NSEP Scholarships have more than doubled since 2001. Over 4,000 Americans have studied abroad on the Fulbright Program since Fall 2001, and NSEP Scholarships have enabled more than 1,900 students to study over 60 languages in over 70 countries since 1994. Freeman-Asia sent over 2,000 Americans to Asia since its inception in 2001. 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.

Highlights of Study Abroad Data from Open Doors 2004:

With the exception of China, all top 20 host countries experienced strong increased U.S. enrollment Countries hosting the most American students are: #1 United Kingdom (31,706, up 5%), #2 Italy (18,936, up 10%), #3 Spain (18,865 up 10%), #4 France (13,080, up 7%), #5 Australia (10,691, up 13%), #6 Mexico (8,775, up 9%), #7 Germany (5,587, up 15%), #8 Ireland (4,892, up 12%), #9 Costa Rica (4,296, up 14%), #10 Japan (3,457, up 9%), #11 Austria (2,798, up 28%), #12 China (2,493, down 36%), #13 Greece (2,011, up 8%), #14 Czech Republic (1,997, up 20%), #15 Chile (1,944, up 30%), #16 New Zealand (1,917, up 45%), #17 Netherlands (1,792, up 7%), #18 South Africa (1,594, up 10%), #19 Ecuador (1,567, up 10%), and #20 Russia (1,521, up 20%).

Many other countries also saw strong growth in U.S. student enrollments in 2002/03: Cuba (1,474, up 15%), Brazil (1,345, up 26%), Denmark (1,127, up 24%), Korea (739, up 17%), India (703, up 12%), Peru (599, up 15%), and Vietnam (286, up 31%).

The number of U.S. students going to less traditional destinations remains high. While Europe (with 64% of total students reported) continues to be the most popular region for U.S. students pursuing education abroad - 109,907 students, up 9% this year - other regions hold strong interest for 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 14% this year, and the number of students going to Latin America increased by 14% to 26,643 this year. Other regions that have seen an increase include Oceania (up 16%, 12,749) Africa (up 4%, 4,827) and for the first time ever, Antarctica is the destination for 18 students. Enrollments in programs in North America (1,251) remained the same, with Canada being the main destination. Following the previous year's decline of 21%, the number of students studying in the Middle East declined further by 51% to 648. The outbreak of SARS in Spring 2003 sharply reduced spring and summer enrollments in Asia, bringing the yearlong total down 11% to 9,751.

In 2002/03, the leading majors of Americans studying abroad were social science (21%), business and management (18%), humanities (13%), fine or applied arts (9%), and foreign languages (8%), followed by physical sciences (7%) education (4%), health sciences (4%), engineering (3%), and math or computer science (2%).

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 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 2004 will be available from IIE Books in January 2005 for $42.95 and can be ordered from the IIE Online Bookstore


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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