Number of International Students in the United States Hits All-Time High

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WASHINGTON, D.C., November 18, 2019—The number of international students in the United States set an all-time high in the 2018/19 academic year, the fourth consecutive year with more than one million international students. The total number of international students, 1,095,299, is a 0.05 percent increase over last year, according to the 2019 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. International students make up 5.5 percent of the total U.S. higher education population. According to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, international students contributed $44.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018, an increase of 5.5 percent from the previous year.

 

Open Doors 2019, released today by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, highlights the continued competitiveness of the U.S. higher education sector as a destination of choice for international students and the growing interest in international educational exchange among U.S. students.

 

“We are happy to see the continued growth in the number of international students in the United States and U.S. students studying abroad,” said Marie Royce, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. “Promoting international student mobility remains a top priority for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and we want even more students in the future to see the United States as the best destination to earn their degrees. International exchange makes our colleges and universities more dynamic for all students and an education at a U.S. institution can have a transformative effect for international students, just like study abroad experiences can for U.S. students.”

 

For the tenth consecutive year, China remained the largest source of international students in the United States in 2018/19 with 369,548 students in undergraduate, graduate, non-degree, and optional practical training (OPT) programs, a 1.7 percent increase from 2017/18. India (202,014, +2.9 percent), South Korea (52,250, -4.2 percent), Saudi Arabia (37,080, -16.5 percent), and Canada (26,122, +0.8 percent) round out the top five. Emerging market countries showed some of the strongest growth year over year, especially Bangladesh (+10.0 percent), Brazil (+9.8 percent), Nigeria (+5.8 percent), and Pakistan (+5.6 percent).

51.6 percent of international students in the United States pursued STEM fields in 2018/19 and the number of international students in Math and Computer Science programs grew by 9.4 percent, surpassing Business and Management to become the second-largest field of study for international students. Engineering remained the largest academic field for international students in 2018/19, with 21.1 percent of all international students. The number of students enrolling for the first time at a U.S. institution in 2018/19 declined by 0.9 percent, recovering from sharper declines the year before. The leveling of declines in newly enrolled international students continues into the 2019/20 academic year, according to data from the 2019 Fall International Student Enrollment Snapshot Survey, a survey conducted by IIE and nine partner higher education associations. Around 500 institutions participate in this survey, a subset of the more than 2,800 institutions surveyed for Open Doors.

Policy changes that allow STEM students to remain in the United States on Optional Practical Training opportunities for 36 months after the completion of their studies likely continues to drive the increase in students on OPT programs, which increased by 9.6 percent to 223,085. The number of students in non-degree programs declined by 5.0 percent to 62,341. The total number of international students enrolled in undergraduate programs declined by 2.4 percent to 431,930, and the number in graduate programs declined by 1.3 percent to 377,943.

In the 2017/18 academic year, 341,751 U.S. students participated in study abroad programs for academic credit, a 2.7 percent increase over the previous year. European countries remain the most popular destinations for U.S. study abroad students; 54.9 percent of study abroad students went to Europe in 2017/18. The United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, and Germany hosted the most U.S. study abroad students. The number of U.S. study abroad students in Japan grew by 12.4 percent from the previous year, and Greece (+20.0 percent), the Netherlands (+15.4 percent), Israel (+11.9 percent) and Argentina (+11.2 percent) also saw double-digit gains. The number of study abroad students in Latin America and the Caribbean fell by 1.4 percent, due to a sharp decline in study abroad to Cuba. Excluding Cuba, the number of study abroad students in this region grew by 3.1 percent.

An increasing number of STEM students are studying abroad, representing 25.6 percent of the total. The population of study abroad students has also continued to become more diverse; 30.0 percent of study abroad students in 2017/18 identified as a member of a racial or ethnic minority group, compared to 23.7 percent in 2012/13 and 18.2 percent in 2007/08. This represents an increase in access to study abroad opportunities for underserved populations of students in higher education, but it still trails the diversity of the U.S. higher education community as a whole.

IIE President and CEO Allan Goodman said, “The record numbers of international students in the United States and U.S. students studying abroad mean that more students than ever before are being exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking.  They will have greater ability to succeed in and contribute to an increasingly complex and interconnected world.”

About Open Doors

2019 is the 70th anniversary of the Open Doors Report, which IIE has published since 1948/49, and in partnership with the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) since 1972. Open Doors is a comprehensive information resource on international students and scholars studying or teaching at higher education institutions in the United States, and U.S. students studying abroad for academic credit at their home colleges or universities. Open Doors also reports on the number of international scholars at U.S. universities and international students enrolled in pre-academic Intensive English Programs. Further details on the Open Doors 2019 findings are on the Open Doors website. The full report will be available in early 2020. For more data, infographics and resources visit iie.org/opendoors.

About the Institute of International Education

Now celebrating its Centennial year, IIE was established in 1919 with the founding premise that international exchange could make the world a more interconnected place. IIE works to build more peaceful and equitable societies by advancing scholarship, building economies and promoting access to opportunity. As a not-for-profit with 18 offices and affiliates worldwide, IIE collaborates with a range of corporate, government and foundation partners across the globe to design and manage scholarship, study abroad, workforce training and leadership development programs. Visit iie.org.

About the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) builds relations between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through academic, cultural, sports, professional and private exchanges, as well as public-private partnerships and mentoring programs. These exchange programs improve foreign relations and strengthen the national security of the United States, support U.S. international leadership, and provide a broad range of domestic benefits by helping break down barriers that often divide us. ECA sponsors the flagship Fulbright Program, the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarships for U.S. undergraduates with financial need, the Critical Language Scholarship Program in support of U.S. foreign language study abroad, and the EducationUSA network of over 400 advising centers worldwide, which provides information to students around the globe who wish to study in the United States. Visit eca.state.gov.

CONTACT:

Michael Stecher, IIE: mstecher@iie.org

Department of State: ECA-Press@state.gov