Open Doors 2017 Executive Summary

Catherine Morris, IIE,
U.S. Department of State,

About Open Doors: 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. The research is supported by a grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

International Students in the United States

Overview: The number of international students enrolled in U.S. higher education increased by 3.4 percent to 1,078,822 students in 2016/17, with almost 35,000 more students than the prior year in the country on non-immigrant student visas. This marks the eleventh consecutive year that Open Doors reported expansion in the total number of international students in U.S. higher education. In 2016/17, there were 85 percent more international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities than were reported a decade ago.

International students represent just over five percent of the more than 20 million students enrolled in U.S. higher education for the third year, up from three to four percent earlier in the decade. This increase is due to both the growing numbers of international students and small declines in the number of American students enrolled in U.S. higher education since the total U.S. higher education enrollment reached its peak in 2012/13.

Places of Origin: For the third year in a row, the largest growth was in the number of students from India, primarily at the graduate level and in optional practical training (OPT). China remains the top sending country, with almost twice the number of students in the U.S. as India, but India’s rate of growth outpaced China’s.

Students from the top two countries of origin—China and India—now represent approximately 50 percent of the total enrollment of international students in the United States. Despite a decrease of 3.8 percent, South Korea moved up to the third leading place of origin, after dropping to fourth place the previous year. The number of students from fourth leading host Saudi Arabia decreased by 14.2 percent. After these top four countries, no country represents more than three percent of the total international students in the United States. Canada remains the fifth leading place of origin, with the number of students increasing very slightly to 27,065.

Each of the top 25 places of origin had more than 7,000 students in the United States. There were increases in the number of students from 18 of the top 25 places of origin, including China, India, Canada, Vietnam, Taiwan, Mexico, Iran, Nigeria, Nepal, Germany, Kuwait, France, Indonesia, Venezuela, Malaysia, Colombia, Spain, and Bangladesh. Bangladesh 9.7% and moved up to #25, while Thailand had a continued decrease and moved out of the top 25 list. Nigeria (up 9.7 percent) and Nepal (up 20.1 percent) showed particularly strong increases.

Students from Iran, the eleventh leading place of origin, increased by 3 percent to 12,643, still significantly lower than the peak of more than 50,000 Iranian students in the United States in 1979/80. From 1974/75 to 1982/83, Iran was the top sender of international students to the United States.

Japan, United Kingdom, and Turkey saw very slight decreases of less than two percent each. South Korea once again saw a decline from the previous year (down 3.8 percent), and Hong Kong decreased by 4.7 percent. The factors driving these declines likely include a mix of global and local economic factors, and in some cases expanded higher education opportunities at home and declining populations. Saudi Arabian students in the United States decreased by 14.2 percent to 52,608 from its previous high of over 61,000, largely due to changes in the Saudi government scholarship program, now approaching its 14th year. The largest drop was among students from Brazil who declined 32.4 percent to 13,089 students. This decrease can be attributed to the conclusion of the Brazil government’s Scientific Mobility Program, which previously sponsored many Brazilian students’ U.S. studies.

Economic and Academic Impacts: The continued growth in international students coming to the U.S. for higher education has a significant positive impact on the economy. International students contributed more than $39 billion to the U.S. economy in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce—a large increase over the previous year’s total of $35 billion. Open Doors 2017 reports that about two thirds of all international students receive the majority of their funds from sources outside of the United States, including personal and family sources as well as assistance from their home country governments or universities. Students from around the world who study in the United States also contribute to America’s scientific and technical research and bring international perspectives into U.S. classrooms, helping prepare American students for global careers, and often lead to longer-term business relationships and economic benefits. Additional breakdowns of economic impact by state and Congressional District, calculated using Open Doors enrollment figures combined with other data, are available on the NAFSA International Student Economic Value Tool website.

Host States: The internationalization of campuses across the United States continues, with nearly all of the top 25 host universities and all of the top ten states hosting more international students than in the prior year. California hosted 156,879 international students, followed by New York, Texas, Massachusetts and Illinois. All but nineteen states and U.S. territories saw increases in international enrollments in 2016/17. Host Campuses: For the fourth year in a row, New York University hosted the largest number of international students. The University of Southern California remains the second leading host. These two universities were followed by Columbia University, Northeastern University, Arizona State University, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Combined, the top 25 campuses hosted 22.4 percent of all international students in the United States. In 2006/07, there were 156 institutions that hosted 1,000 or more international students, while the new Open Doors reports 250 institutions hosting 1,000 or more international students in 2016/17.

Metropolitan Areas: New York City is once again the top metropolitan area for international students, followed by Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago. Dallas surpassed San Francisco as the fifth leading metropolitan area.

U.S. Students Studying Abroad

Overview: Open Doors reported that 325,339 American students received academic credit last year for study abroad in 2015/16, an increase of 3.8%. Study abroad by American students has more than tripled in the past two decades; however, the rate of growth had slowed in recent years. The increase was about 46 percent in the past 10 years, from about 223,534 students in 2005/06, and only 19 percent over the past five years, from 273,996 in 2010/11.

Participation: Although the total number is at an all-time high, it is still the case that only about 10 percent of all U.S. undergraduate students (including community college students) will study abroad by the time they graduate. The fact that 90 percent of all American undergraduate students enrolled in U.S. higher education are graduating without an international experience means that there is still a long way to go. For students pursuing a Bachelor’s degree, approximately 15.5% studied abroad before graduating.

Destinations: Europe remains the top destination for U.S. students going abroad. Open Doors 2017 reports study abroad to Europe increased by 3.5 percent in 2015/16. The United Kingdom remains the leading destination for American students, followed by Italy, Spain, France and Germany – which overtook China as the fifth largest host destination with Germany increasing by 8.1 percent. Japan, South Africa, Mexico, Denmark, Czech Republic, New Zealand, Cuba, and Netherlands all saw strong increases in hosting U.S. study abroad students. U.S. students studied in increasing numbers in Latin America and the Caribbean, growing by 5.6 percent (to 53,105). There were decreases in study abroad to China (down 8.6 percent), France (down 5.4 percent to 17,215), Brazil (down 11.4 percent to 3,400 students), India (down 5.8 percent) and Greece (down 1 percent). Several leading destinations in Asia saw increases as hosts for U.S. study abroad: Japan (up 18 percent) and South Korea (up three percent).

Fields of Study: American students majoring in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) represent 25.2 percent of study abroad students, slightly outnumbering study abroad students in Business and the Social Sciences, which made up about 20.9 percent and 17.1 percent of study abroad students, respectively.

New analysis: Taking a closer look at where the U.S. students who study abroad are coming from, Open Doors 2017 includes breakdowns looking at the number of study abroad students by sector (public, private not-for-profit or for-profit), and ranks the top colleges for study abroad among community colleges and special focus institutions for the second year. Recognizing the growing importance of education abroad experiences that involve work, internships, and volunteering abroad (WIVA), Open Doors also looks more closely at this topic, and includes data on this experiential learning both for credit and not for credit.This Open Doors 2017 International Student Census data is reflective of 2,105 institutions, and U.S. study abroad data is reflective of 1,412 institutions.

All data from Open Doors® Report on International Educational Exchange.

Further information on the Open Doors 2017 surveys and their findings is on the Open Doors website, and the full 100+ page report will be available in March and can be ordered from IIE Books.


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