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Press Release

International Student Enrollments Rose Modestly in 2009/10, Led by Strong Increase in Students from China

View current Open Doors data

Total foreign student numbers in 2009/10 increased by 3% over prior year; Global economic downturn impacted many sending countries in 2009/10; USC top host university; California top host state; NYC top host city; Business and Management, Engineering remain top fields of study

WASHINGTON, DC, November 15, 2010—The number of international students at colleges and universities in the United States increased by 3% to 690,923 during the 2009/10 academic year, according to the Open Doors report, which is published annually by the Institute of International Education (IIE) with support from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. This represents a record high number of international students in the United States. This year's growth was primarily driven by a 30% increase in Chinese student enrollment in the United States to a total of nearly 128,000 students, or more than 18% of the total international student population, making China the leading sending country. Students from India increased by 2% to a total of nearly 105,000. Indian students represent 15% of all international students in U.S. higher education.

Open Doors 2010 reports 2009/10 enrollments, affected by decisions made in a period of economic downturn in the United States and in many countries around the world. The data reveal a complicated picture of international student enrollment in U.S. colleges and universities, with enrollment patterns varying widely according to place of origin and academic level. There were strong increases in the number of students from a few countries, but more than half of the top 25 sending countries showed decreases, resulting in a slower rate of overall growth than had been seen in recent years. Each of the top five host U.S. states, California, New York, Texas, Massachusetts and Illinois, saw increases in the number of international students they hosted.

Open Doors 2010 reports that 1% more new students enrolled in fall 2009 compared to fall 2008; but colleges and universities did not experience the surge in new student enrollments they had seen during the prior three years of double-digit growth. With the robust intake of new students in recent years, however, more of those students stayed enrolled in U.S. institutions in 2009/10 than those who graduated, so overall totals remained higher than the previous year at all levels of study. International enrollments at the graduate level increased by 4% to 293,885. Undergraduate enrollments increased by 2% to 274,431. The total number of international students in non-degree programs was up 6% to 54,803, despite the fact that enrollment in non-degree intensive English programs was down by 3%. This indicates that more students are coming for shorter term certificate programs, and exchanges, with a declining number coming for English language training.

Early indications of international enrollments for fall 2010, based on a "snapshot" Fall 2010 Online Survey conducted by IIE in cooperation with seven other higher education associations, show that campuses are seeing similar or higher rates of increase for both new and total international student enrollments compared to last year. Of the responding institutions, 52% (350) reported seeing an increase in their total international student enrollments, and 21% (137) reporting seeing a decline, while 27% (181) reported no change from the prior year.

"American colleges and universities have attracted a record number of international students for the 2009-2010 academic year. The State Department, through partnerships with U.S. colleges and universities, has made it a priority to reach out to talented international students, particularly students from disadvantaged backgrounds. A global education prepares them to become leaders in their own countries and societies," said Ann Stock, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs.

"The United States continues to host more international students than any other country in the world," said Allan Goodman, President and CEO of the Institute of International Education. "Active engagement between U.S. and international students in American classrooms provides students with valuable skills that will enable them to collaborate across cultures and borders to address shared global challenges in the years ahead."

Together, the top three sending countries—China, India and South Korea—comprise nearly half (44%) of the total international enrollments in U.S. higher education.  Canada, Taiwan and Japan each represent close to 4% of the total international student population, with these top six places of origin comprising 56%. Each of the other sending countries represents 2% or less of the total number of international students in the United States.

Open Doors 2010 reports increases in foreign student enrollments from five of the ten leading places of origin, and eleven of the top 25, with double digit increases from China (up 30%) and Saudi Arabia (up 25%). Saudi Arabia is now the seventh leading sending country, moving up from tenth position last year and reflecting the Saudi government's substantial investment in study abroad scholarships. Increases in enrollments of 6% or less were reported from India, Vietnam, Turkey, U.K., Brazil, France, Nigeria, Malaysia and Venezuela. Vietnam’s 2% increase was relatively small compared to the more than 45% increases it had shown in the previous two years. Students from India increased by 2%, which was a lower rate than in previous years; however, they remain the second largest international group, with tens of thousands more students from India in U.S. higher education than from any other country except China.

Among the other leading places of origin, the most notable decline was seen in students from Japan, with a 15% decline following a 14% drop the previous year; Japan is #6 this year. The number of students from Mexico decreased by 9%, those from Indonesia decreased by 7.5%, and Kenya was down 8%. There were declines 5% or less in the number of students from the other leading senders: South Korea, Canada, Taiwan, Nepal, Germany, Thailand, Hong Kong, Colombia, Pakistan and Russia. Nepal’s 3% decline in enrollment reverses the large increases of recent years, most recently 30% in 2008/09. (Detailed figures for the top 25 are below.)

According to Open Doors 2010, universities in California hosted the largest number of foreign students with 94,279, up 1%, followed by New York with 76,146, up 2%, and Texas, with 58,934 up 1%. The New York City metropolitan area continues to be the leading city for international students, with 60,791 enrolled in area schools, up 2.5%. The Los Angeles metropolitan area is in second place with 42,103 international students, down 2%.

University of Southern California hosted the largest number of international students for the ninth consecutive year, reporting 7,987. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (7,287) hosted the second largest number, closely followed by New York University (7,276). Purdue University (6,903 students) advanced to fourth place, and Columbia University (6,833) is now the fifth leading host. Open Doors reports that 186 U.S. campuses each hosted more than 1,000 students.

Business and Management remains the most popular field of study for international students in the United States, increasing by 5% and comprising 21% percent of the total, followed by Engineering with a 7% increase and comprising 18% of the total. Math and Computer Science also increased significantly in 2009/10, up 8% from the prior year. Intensive English Language, which declined last year by 1%, saw a 9% further decline in enrollments.

International students contribute nearly $20 billion to the U.S. economy, through their expenditures on tuition and living expenses, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Higher education is among the United States’ top service sector exports, as international students provide significant revenue not just to the host campuses but also to local economies of the host states for living expenses, including room and board, books and supplies, transportation, health insurance, support for accompanying family members, and other miscellaneous items. Economic figures by state, produced in collaboration with NAFSA: Association of International Educators, are available on the Open Doors website. Open Doors 2010 reports that 62% of all international students receive the majority of their funds from personal and family sources. When other sources of foreign funding are included, such as assistance from their home country governments or universities, almost 70% of all international students’ primary funding comes from sources outside of the United States.

Highlights from Open Doors 2010

China is the leading place of origin for international students in the United States with 127,628 in 2009/10 (an increase of 30% from the previous year), followed by #2 India (104,897, up 2%), #3 South Korea (72,153, down 4%), #4 Canada (28,145, down 5%), #5 Taiwan (26,685 down 5%), #6 Japan (24,842 down 15%), #7 Saudi Arabia (15,810, up 25%), #8 Mexico (13,450, down 9%), #9 Vietnam (13,112 up 2%), #10 Turkey (12,397, up 2%), #11 Nepal (11,233, down 3%), #12 Germany (9,548, down 1%), #13 United Kingdom (8,861, up 2%), #14 Brazil (8,786, up less than 1%), #15 Thailand (8,531, down 2%), #16 Hong Kong (8,034, down 4%), #17 France (7,716, up 4%), #18 Indonesia (6,943, down 8%), #19 Colombia (6,920, down 1%), #20 Nigeria (6,568 up 5%), #21 Malaysia (6,190, up 4%), #22 Kenya (5,384, down 8%), #23 Pakistan (5,222, down 1%), #24 Venezuela (4,958, up 6%), and #25 Russia (4,827, down 2%). 

The top ten most popular fields of study for international students in the United States in 2009/10 were Business and Management (21% of total), Engineering (18%), Physical and Life Sciences (9%), Mathematics and Computer Science (9%), Social Sciences (9%), Fine & Applied Arts (5%), Health Professions (5%), Intensive English Language (4%), Education (3%), Humanities (3%), and Agriculture (2%). Undeclared majors are excluded from the rankings of top fields of study.

For the ninth year in a row, the University of Southern California is the leading host institution with 7,987 international students. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign hosts the second highest number of foreign students (7,287), with New York University a close #3 (7,276). Other campuses in the top 10 are: Purdue University (6,903), Columbia University (6,833), University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (6,095), University of California – Los Angeles (5,685), Michigan State University (5,358), University of Texas – Austin (5,265), and Boston University (5,172).

California remains the leading host state for international students (94,279, up 1%), followed by New York (76,146, up 2%), Texas (58,934, up 1%), Massachusetts (35,313, up 4%), Illinois (31,093, up 4%), Florida (29,708, down 2%), Pennsylvania (28,097, up 2%), Michigan (24,214, up 3%), Ohio (22,370, up 8%), and Indiana (18,569, up 9%). (For breakdowns by state, including leading host institutions and leading fields of study and places of origin for foreign students studying in each state, see the Fact Sheets by State on the Open Doors data portal.).


About Open Doors

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 an annual statistical survey of the international students in the United States since 1919, 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 approximately 3,000 accredited U.S. institutions. Open Doors also reports on surveys on international scholars at U.S. universities; international students enrolled in pre-academic Intensive English Programs; and on U.S. students studying abroad (since 1985).

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State manages a wide range of academic, professional, and cultural exchanges that include approximately 40,000 participants annually, with the goal of increasing mutual understanding and respect between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. These include, among others, the Fulbright Fellowships and Scholarships, the Gilman Scholarships, the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program, and the International Visitor Leadership Program. ECA also manages the EducationUSA network of advising offices for students around the world who wish to study in the United States. For more information on the Department of State's educational and cultural exchange activities, visit the Bureau of Educational and Cultural 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

Peggy Blumenthal 
Senior Counselor to the President

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