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Press Release

Study Abroad by U.S. Students Slowed in 2008/09 with More Students Going to Less Traditional Destinations

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WASHINGTON, DC, November 15, 2010—The Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, released today, reports that 260,327 students studied abroad for credit during the academic year 2008/09, compared to 262,416 the previous year, a modest decline of 0.8%. The Open Doors report is published annually by the Institute of International Education with funding from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. For the first time in the 25 years that the data has been tracked, the total number of U.S. students studying abroad for academic credit did not increase. However, the report found that there were notable increases in the number of U.S. students going to study in less traditional destinations. Fifteen of the top 25 destinations were outside of Western Europe and nineteen were countries where English is not a primary language.

To obtain a “snapshot” of whether these study abroad trends are continuing, IIE conducted a fall 2010 online survey of U.S. campuses in cooperation with the Forum on Education Abroad. The survey indicates that study abroad numbers are beginning to rebound, particularly to China. More than half of the campuses responding (55%) said they had seen an increase in the number of their students studying abroad in 2009/10 compared to the previous year, including some of the campuses with the largest numbers of study abroad students. The Open Doors 2010 report and Fall Survey findings will be discussed at a briefing today at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, in conjunction with the worldwide observance of International Education Week.

Campuses have noted that their students continue to show a strong interest in study abroad and campuses and study abroad providers have sought affordable opportunities for these students to gain valuable international experience. They also reported an increase of 37% in the number of students participating in practical work experiences as part of their study abroad, with 18,715 students now receiving academic credit at U.S. colleges and universities for internships or work abroad.

Open Doors reports declines in the number of America students going to four of the top five study abroad destinations in 2008/09. The United Kingdom, the leading destination, hosted 6% fewer students than in the previous year. Decreases were seen also in the number of students to Italy (down 11%); Spain (down 4%), and France (down 3%). The exception among leading hosts was an increase of 4% in the number of students to China, the fifth leading destination, following a 19 % increase in the previous year.

Despite flat overall study abroad numbers, there were notable increases in the numbers of U.S. students going to some of the less traditional destinations for study abroad in 2008/09. Double digit increases to host countries among the top 25 destinations include Argentina (up 15 %), South Africa (up 12%), Chile (up 28%), the Netherlands (up 14%), Denmark (up 21%), Peru (up 32%) and South Korea (up 29%). Double-digit decreases among the top 25 host countries include a 26% decline in U.S. students to Mexico (which experienced H1N1 virus outbreak that year), a 16% decline to Austria and a 15% decline to India. Many of these countries hosted limited numbers of U.S. students the prior year, so large percentage declines were produced by relatively small shifts in actual numbers.

"I am very pleased that American students are choosing to study abroad in a growing diversity of locations," said Ann Stock, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. "This year the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs will support 1,600 American students in its Fulbright Program, for graduating seniors and graduate students, while our Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program supports 2,000 American undergraduate students with financial need to study abroad. In a globalized economy, this just makes sense for our young people and our country."

Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO of the Institute of International Education, said "As educators our challenge remains one of making international a part of what it means to become educated. International experience provides key skills needed by American graduates to succeed in the global workforce."

While four European countries continue to lead in hosting U.S. students—the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and France—Open Doors reports that fifteen of the top 25 destinations were outside of Western Europe and nineteen were countries where English is not a primary language. China, as the fifth largest host country, was the only one of the top five to show any increase in numbers for 2008/09. While Europe continues to be by far the leading regional destination for U.S. students studying abroad, Open Doors reports that there were 4% fewer American students studying in Europe in 2008/9, while the number of students to Africa increased by 16%, those to Asia increased by 2%, and those to South America increased by 13%. This growth is fueled in part by new and sometimes more affordable program opportunities in these destinations, strategic partnerships between higher education institutions in the United States and abroad, and a range of fields and program durations that have expanded to accommodate the needs of an increasingly diverse study abroad population.

While Europe continues to host the largest share of U.S. students, 55%, with 141,955 students, this represents a smaller proportion of students than in prior years. The European share of U.S. study abroad students has gradually declined over the past decade, from 62% in 1999/00. Latin America hosted 15% of all Americans studying abroad, Asia hosted 11%, Oceania—which includes Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific Islands—hosted 6%, and Africa hosted 5%. About 6% of students study abroad in more than one destination during the same study abroad experience.

The number of American students studying in the Middle East increased by 9%, though the region is host to only slightly more than 1% of the total number of students studying abroad. Israel hosts the largest number of students in the region by far, but experienced a notable 16% decline over the previous year. The report shows the number of U.S. students rising dramatically in such countries as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, although the total numbers are still relatively low.

Open Doors collects data on the duration of study abroad programs and this year virtually all the declines were seen in short-term programs (summer, January term and any program of 8 weeks or less during the academic year). Short-term programs serve the largest number of Americans studying abroad, including community college students and others whose financial or academic needs preclude a longer stay. About 41% of students studying abroad do so through mid-length programs, while 55% of U.S. students choose short-term programs. Seventy-four percent of students at Associate’s institutions who studied abroad did so for 8 weeks or less. Participation rose slightly in mid-length programs – one semester, one quarter or two quarters—which allow for deeper immersion into host cultures and increased opportunity for language acquisition. A little more than 4% of study abroad students (approximately 11,000 this year) spend a full academic or calendar year abroad, and that proportion has remained steady for over a decade.


The United Kingdom remained the most popular destination, with a total of 31,342 (a 6% decline). Italy is second, declining 11% to 27,362, followed by #3 Spain (24,169, down 4%), #4 France (16,910, down 3%), and #5 China (13,674, up 4%). Other destinations in the top 25 were: #6 Australia (11,140, up 1%), #7 Germany (8,330, up 1%), #8 Mexico (7,320, down 26%), #9 Ireland (6,858, down less than 1%), #10 Costa Rica (6,363, up 4%), #11 Japan (5,784, up 1%), #12 Argentina (4,705, up 15%), #13 South Africa (4,160, up 12%), #14 Czech Republic (3,664, up 7%), #15 Greece (3,616, down 6%), #16 Chile (3,503, up 28%), #17 Ecuador (2,859,up 2%), #18 Austria (2,836, down 16%) #19 Brazil (2,777 up 2%), #20 New Zealand (2,769 up 5%), #21 India (2,690, down 15%) #22 Netherlands (2,318, up 14%), #23 Denmark (2,244, up 21%), #24 Peru (2,163, up 32%) and #25 South Korea (2,062, up 29%).

New York University remained the leading sending institution, reporting that it gave academic credit for study abroad to 3,524 of its students. It was followed by Michigan State University (2,610), University of California – Los Angeles (2,371), University of Washington (2,349), University of Southern California (2,348), University of Minnesota – Twin Cities (2,347), University of Texas – Austin (2,322), University of Wisconsin – Madison (2,230), Penn State – University Park (2,181), and University of Michigan - Ann Arbor (2,116). Open Doors 2010 reports that 52 U.S. campuses, primarily large research institutions, awarded academic credit for study abroad last year to 1,000 or more of their students.

While large institutions dominate in terms of absolute numbers of their students going abroad, many smaller institutions send a higher proportion of their students abroad. Open Doors 2010 data on study abroad participation rates show 29 institutions that reported sending more than 70% of their students abroad at some point during their undergraduate careers. These institutions are (in alphabetical order): Arcadia University, Austin College, Carleton College, Centre College, Colorado College, Davidson College, Drew University, Earlham College, Elon University, Goshen College, Goucher College, Hartwick College, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Kalamazoo College, Lee University, Lewis and Clark College, Linfield College, Luther College, Macalester College, Messiah College, Oberlin College, Oklahoma Christian University, Pepperdine University, Randolph-Macon College, Saint Lawrence University, Saint Olaf College, Taylor University, University of Dallas and Wofford College.

According to Open Doors 2010, the leading fields of study for Americans studying abroad are the social sciences (21% of those studying abroad), business and management (20%), humanities (12%), fine or applied arts (7%), physical/life sciences (7%), foreign languages (6%), health professions (5%), education (4%), engineering (3%), math/computer science (2%) and agriculture (1%).

The study abroad data in Open Doors 2010 reflect study conducted abroad in academic year 2008/09 (including summer 2009). Campus administrators responding to the Open Doors survey provide data on the number of study abroad students to whom they have awarded credit after completion of study abroad, so the data provided in academic year 2009/10 was for study abroad in 2008/09 and is the most recent available.

IIE provides a web-based resource,, to help students find scholarships and grants to help support their overseas studies. An interactive website, IIEPassport, helps students find the study abroad program that best fits their academic needs. IIEPassport contains more than 9,500 study abroad and learning travel opportunities worldwide for participants of all ages, searchable by country, field of study, language, academic level, world area, city, organization, duration, and type of program. The program listings are also published in IIE’s annual IIEPassport Study Abroad Directories, available from These regional IIEPassport directories now include content provided by Lonely Planet on living, traveling and studying in the region.

In addition, the IIENetwork offers resources and an online community for international educators, with a "Best Practices" section featuring Study Abroad and other internationalization programs that have won IIE's Andrew Heiskell Awards for Innovation in International Education.

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). A full press kit and further details on the Open Doors 2010 surveys and their findings can be accessed on, and the full 120 page report can be ordered for $64.95 from IIE Books.

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, including the Fulbright Fellowships and Scholarships and the International Visitor Leadership Program, with the goal of increasing mutual understanding and respect between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. ECA sponsors the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarships for U.S. undergraduates with financial need, administered by IIE, and also manages the EducationUSA network of advising offices providing information to 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.


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 Contact

Sharon Witherell
Director, Public Affairs
Tel: +1 212.984.5380

Shana Childs
Public Affairs
Tel: +1 212.984.5360