IIE Releases Open Doors 2016 Data


Sharon Witherell, IIE, switherell@iie.org
Department of State, ECA-Press@state.gov

Open Doors 2016:

  • International Students in U.S. Top One Million for the First Time
  • They Make Up Only 5 Percent of Students in U.S. Higher Education
  • More U.S. Students Study Abroad and Pursue Experiential Learning Overseas
  • Strong growth among students in STEM fields in both directions

New York, NY—An increasing number of students are crossing the globe to gain practical, international experience that they can apply in their careers and life in a global society.

According to the 2016 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange data released today by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the number of international students at U.S. colleges and universities surpassed one million for the first time during the 2015-16 academic year—an increase of seven percent from the previous year to a new high of nearly 1,044,000, representing five percent of the total student population at U.S. institutions. More than a third of these international students studied engineering, math or computer science, and 14 percent engaged in Optional Practical Training (OPT), including many in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) professions. The growth in international STEM students is likely connected to the 25 percent increase in students from India, more than three quarters of who study in these fields.

Open Doors also reports that more than 313,000 U.S. students received credit last year for study abroad during 2014-15, an increase of nearly three percent over the previous year. Approximately a quarter of these students majored in STEM fields. The Open Doors findings reflect that students study abroad in part to gain international experience that can be applied in their careers, and data also show that an increasing number of U.S. students—over 22,000 in 2014-15—participated in non-credit work, internships and volunteering abroad through which they can gain practical skills.

“We need to empower more of America’s future leaders to experience the world beyond our borders,” said Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. “International education helps people develop the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in today’s global economy, and creates networks across borders that improve international understanding and strengthen the national security of the United States.”

“The Open Doors findings show that international students value the quality, diversity and strong reputation of U.S. institutions and recognize that these institutions will give them opportunities that can help them not only in their education but also in their careers,” said IIE President Allan Goodman. “At the Institute of International Education, we believe American colleges and universities offer a premiere education and valuable training to students from around the globe and that students from other nations also teach us a lot about the world we share. The more we can open doors to other cultures for our students, the better off our country and our world will be.”

Despite the overall rise in the international student population in the U.S. and the shrinking gender gap over the past few decades, Open Doors shows that the gender gap among international students has widened slightly over the past two years: only 43 percent of students who came to the U.S. to study during the 2015-16 academic year were women, down from 45 percent five years ago, likely because fewer women tend to study in STEM fields worldwide.

For the U.S. students studying abroad, women continue to make up 67 percent of the study abroad population. The racial and ethnic diversity has improved modestly each year since 2004-05, with 27 percent of U.S. students who studied abroad in 2014-15 identified as racial or ethnic minorities, up from 17 percent a decade ago. Open Doors reports that about 5 percent of those who studied abroad were people with disabilities.

“Studying abroad is one of the best ways to prepare to enter and succeed in the interconnected, globalized workforce, yet 90 percent of American college students do not study or intern outside of the United States. We owe it to the next generation of Americans to find ways to make it more accessible to a wider range of students,” said IIE’s President, Dr. Allan E. Goodman. “Some U.S. students studying in STEM fields had found it challenging to study abroad. But this is changing, and global experience is increasingly crucial to success in all fields.”

Europe continues to host more than half of all for U.S. students going abroad, with about a third of all U.S. students choosing the United Kingdom, Italy, or Spain in the 2014-15 academic year. However, students were increasingly drawn to countries that offer an up-close look at how our world is changing, such as Cuba and Mexico, as well as Greece, which experienced the highest rate of growth among top study abroad destinations with an 18 percent increase. Open Doors data indicate the Ebola crisis likely deterred U.S. students from traveling to sub-Saharan Africa, as the number of U.S. students in that region fell by 20 percent.

Other key findings from the Open Doors data include the following:

  • While students from China and India remained the leading countries of origin and accounted for 84 percent of the growth in international students in 2015-16, Saudi Arabia’s government-sponsored international scholarship program helped drive that country to surpass South Korea to become the third largest sender of international students to the United States.
  • Meanwhile, the number of students coming to the United States from Brazil declined by 18 percent in 2015-16, the largest decline recorded and one that is likely due to the freeze in the Brazilian government’s Scientific Mobility Program, which previously sponsored many Brazilian students’ U.S. studies.
  • California hosted nearly 150,000 international students in 2015-16, making it the top destination for students from abroad. Four of the top 20 U.S. host institutions for international students were located in California, with the University of Southern California ranking second, just behind New York University. New York is the second leading host state, and New York City is the leading host metropolitan area.
  • International students bring nearly $36 billion to the U.S. economy, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Open Doors shows breakdowns by country and host state.

Download the Open Doors 2016 Presentation for charts and graphics reflecting this year’s data release.

Open Doors is published by the Institute of International Education, an independent not-for-profit organization with a network of 19 offices and affiliates worldwide and over 1,400 member institutions. IIE designs and implements programs of study and training for students, educators, young professionals and trainees from all sectors with funding from government agencies, foundations, and corporations. IIE has conducted an annual statistical survey of the international students in the United States since its founding in 1919 and in partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs since 1972. Open Doors also reports on the number of international scholars at U.S. universities; international students enrolled in pre-academic Intensive English Programs; and on U.S. students studying abroad. Further details on the Open Doors 2016 surveys and their findings is on the Open Doors website, and the full 100+ page report will be available in January and can be ordered from IIE Books.

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State builds relations between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through academic, cultural, sports, professional and private sector exchanges, as well as public-private partnerships and mentoring programs. Approximately 50,000 participants annually embark on these exchange programs, including the flagship Fulbright Program and the International Visitor Leadership Program. ECA also sponsors 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. For more information on the Department of State’s educational and cultural exchange activities, visit eca.state.gov or contact ECA-Press@state.gov.


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