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Record Numbers of International Students in U.S. Higher Education

View current Open Doors data

Total foreign student numbers increased 8% in 2008/09; new enrollments up by 16%; largest percentage increase in international enrollments since 1980

November 16, 2009—The number of international students at colleges and universities in the United States increased by 8% to an all-time high of 671,616 in the 2008/09 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 is the largest percentage increase in international student enrollments since 1980/81, and marks the third consecutive year of significant growth (with increases of 7% in 2007/08 and 3% in 2006/07). The total international student count exceeds by 14.5% the prior peak enrollment year (2002/03).

Open Doors 2009 data also show the number of "new" international students -- those enrolled for the first time at a U.S. college or university in Fall 2008 – increasing by 16%, following two years of 10% increases. The largest growth was seen in undergraduate enrollments, which increased by 11%, compared to a 2% increase in graduate enrollments. This growth was driven largely by increases in undergraduate students from China.

The Open Doors 2009 data reports on enrollments in academic year 2008/09 based on a comprehensive survey of approximately 3,000 accredited U.S higher education institutions of all types and sizes, regarding international students at all levels of study. The findings do not reflect the full impact of the past year's economic downturn, since decisions to come to the United States to study were made before the financial effects were fully felt in the sending countries.

To provide a "snapshot" look at what U.S. campuses are reporting in Fall 2009, IIE conducted an online survey, in cooperation with seven other higher education associations, asking if international enrollments for Fall 2009 have increased or decreased. This survey indicates a mixed picture for this Fall, with international enrollments varying according to different countries of origin and types and sizes of host institutions: 50% of responding campuses are continuing to see increases in international student enrollments (down from 57% who saw increases the previous year), while 24% reported declines, and 26% reported levels about the same as for the prior Fall. The campuses seeing declines noted varied effects of the current economic conditions and students' concerns about the H1N1 virus, while those reporting increases cited increased recruitment efforts and the growing reputation and visibility of U.S. campuses abroad.

"I am delighted to see the large increase in the number of international students who are choosing to study in the United States," said Judith A. McHale, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. "The all-time high number of international students who studied here in the 2008/09 academic year testifies to the quality and diversity for which American higher education is known around the world. The Department of State actively promotes the benefits of an American education. Our large network of more than 400 EducationUSA advising centers plays a key role in matching international students with a U.S. academic institution that's just right for them. We strongly encourage international students to study in the United States, and are committed to helping them choose the American college or university that best meets their needs."

According to Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO of the Institute of International Education, "American higher education continues to be highly valued throughout the world. U.S. campuses offer unparalleled opportunities for creativity, flexibility, and cultural exchange. Students from all over the world contribute substantially to their host campuses and to the U.S. economy. Their active engagement in our classrooms provides U.S. students with valuable skills that will enable them to collaborate across political and cultural borders to address shared global challenges in the years ahead."

Open Doors 2009 reports increases in foreign student enrollments from seven of the ten leading places of origin, and 19 of the top 25, with increases of more than 20% from four countries. India remains the leading place of origin for the eighth consecutive year, increasing by 9% to 103,260. Students from China, once again the second leading sender, increased 21% for a total of 98,510. South Korea, in third place, increased 9% to 75,065. Canada, the only non-Asian country in the top five, rose to fourth place with an increase of 2% to 29,697, surpassing Japan, now in fifth place after students declined for the fourth consecutive year, decreasing by 14% to 29,264. Taiwan remained in sixth place, with 28,065 students, a 3% decline. The number of students from Mexico, the seventh-leading sender, remained flat this year, with a total of 14,850.

Students from Turkey (#8) increased by 10% to 13,263, while Vietnam jumped into the ninth spot with a dramatic 46% increase to 12,823. Vietnam's 2008/09 growth follows increases of 45% in 2007/08 and 31% in 2006/07, moving it into the top 10 this year from 20th place only two years ago. Saudi Arabia, the tenth leading sender, increased by 28% to 12,661, consistent with its substantial investment in government funded scholarships. Other notable increases were seen in enrollments from Nepal (#11), up 30% to 11,581 students, Germany (#12), up 9% to 9,679, and Brazil (#13), up 16% to 8,767 students in the United States. Slight declines were seen in the numbers of students from Thailand (#14) and Indonesia (#17), -3.0% and -2.4% respectively. The United Kingdom (#15), Hong Kong (#16), France (#18) and Colombia (#19) showed increases of less then 5%. Nigeria was #20, with an increase of 1% to 6,256 and Kenya was #22, with a 1% increase.

According to Open Doors 2009, universities in California hosted the largest number of foreign students with 93,124, up 10%, followed by New York with 74,934, up 7%, and Texas with 58,188, up 12%. The New York City metropolitan area continues to be the leading city for international students, with 59,322 enrolled in area schools, up 8%. The Los Angeles metropolitan area is in second place with 42,897 international students, up 11%.

For the eighth consecutive year, Open Doors reports that the University of Southern California hosted the largest number of international students, this year reporting 7,482. New York University held in second place with 6,761 international students, and Columbia University, also holding steady in third place, hosted 6,685. Rounding out the top five 2008/09 host institutions are University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (6,570 students) and Purdue University (6,136 students). Open Doors reports that 172 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 12% and comprising 21% percent of the total, followed by Engineering with an 11% increase and comprising 18% of the total. Math and Computer Science also increased significantly in 2008/09, up 10% from the prior year. After a 15% increase in 2007/08, Intensive English Language showed a slight decline in popularity, decreasing by 1%.

International students contribute $17.8 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 revenue to the U.S. economy and individual host states for living expenses, including room and board, books and supplies, transportation, health insurance, support for accompanying family members, and other miscellaneous items. Open Doors 2009 reports that 65% 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, 70% of all international students' primary funding comes from sources outside of the United States.


Highlights from Open Doors 2009

India is the leading place of origin for international students in the United States with 103,260 in 2008/09 (an increase of 9% from the previous year), followed by #2 China (98,510, up 21%) #3 South Korea (75,065, up 9%), #4 Canada (29,697, up 2%), #5 Japan (29,264, down 14%), #6 Taiwan (28,065, down 3%), #7 Mexico (14,850, up 0.1%), #8 Turkey (13,263, up 10%), #9 Vietnam (12,823, up 46%), #10 Saudi Arabia (12,661, up 28%), #11 Nepal (11,581, up 30%), #12 Germany (9,679, up 9%), #13 Brazil (8,767, up 16%), #14 Thailand (8,736, down 3%), #15 United Kingdom (8,701, up 4%), #16 Hong Kong (8,329, up 1%) #17 Indonesia (7,509, down 2%), #18 France (7,421, up 5%), #19 Colombia (7,013, up 5%), #20 Nigeria (6,256, up 1%), #21 Malaysia (5,942, up 10%), #22 Kenya (5,877, up 1%), #23 Pakistan (5,298, down 1%), #24 Russia (4,908, up 0%), and #25 Venezuela (4,678, up 5%). (For further details on the trends in recent years from each of these leading places of origin, go to the Open Doors website and click on "Country Sheets").

The top ten most popular fields of study for international students in the United States in 2008/09 were Business and Management (21% of total), Engineering (18%) and Physical and Life Sciences (9%), Social Sciences (9%), Mathematics and Computer Science (8%), Health Professions (5%), Fine & Applied Arts (5%), Intensive English Language (4%), Humanities (3%), Education (3%), and Agriculture (1%). Undeclared majors are excluded from the rankings of top fields of study.

For the eighth year in a row, the University of Southern California is the leading host institution with 7,482 international students. New York University hosts the second highest number of foreign students (6,761). Other campuses in the top 10 are: Columbia University (6,685), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (6,570), Purdue University (6,136), University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (5,790), University of Texas – Austin (5,703), University of California – Los Angeles (5,590), Boston University (5,037), and Michigan State University (4,757).

California remains the leading host state for international students (93,124, up 10%), followed by New York (74,934, up 7%), Texas (58,188, up 12%), Massachusetts (33,838, up 6%), Florida (30,386, up 14%), Illinois (29,887, up 4%), Pennsylvania (27,529, up 6%), Michigan (23,617, 3%), Ohio (20,725, up 7%), and Indiana (17,098, up 10%). (For breakdowns by state, including leading host institutions and leading fields of study and places of origin for foreign students studying in each state, go to the Open Doors website and click on "State Sheets").


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).

About The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

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. ECA manages the EducationUSA network of advising offices for students around the world who wish to study in the United States.

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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

Media Contacts

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