U.S. Colleges and Universities Remain Top Choice for International Students

The Open Doors® 2021 Report on International Educational Exchange reveals that international students studied at higher education institutions across all U.S. states and territories, welcoming more than 914,000 students for academic study during the 2020/21 academic year

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 15, 2021 — The Open Doors® 2021 Report on International Educational Exchange, released today, underscores the continued commitment of students and scholars, U.S. higher education, governmental partners, and industry stakeholders to international educational exchange amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Open Doors 2021 report, released by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Institute of International Education (IIE), has been an important benchmark for international educational exchange to the U.S. for over 70 years. In the 2020/21 academic year, the Open Doors report included international students enrolled at U.S. higher education institutions in the United States and online from abroad, and those on Optional Practical Training (OPT).

In the 2020/21 academic year, 914,095 international students pursued studies at U.S. colleges and universities, a decrease of 15% from the previous academic year. These students represented 5% of all students in U.S. higher education and, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, contributed $39 billion to the U.S. economy in 2020.

U.S. remained open to international students during the COVID-19 pandemic

More than 710,000 international students enrolled at the undergraduate, graduate, and non-degree levels from more than 200 places of origin. In addition, more than 200,000 international students pursued OPT, a welcome opportunity for students to gain practical work experiences in the U.S. after academic study.

The COVID-19 global pandemic primarily impacted international students studying at a U.S. university for the first time, or new international students. This segment declined by 46%, in line with anticipated declines reported last November in the Fall 2020 International Student Enrollment Snapshot. Despite challenges due to travel and enrollment, 145,528 international students were able to begin their studies in person or online in the United States or from abroad.

International students already enrolled at U.S. universities, or continuing students, largely remained committed to their U.S. education experience. The total number of continuing students at U.S. universities decreased by just 3%. “International students are central to the free flow of ideas, innovation, economic prosperity, and peaceful relations between nations,” said Matthew Lussenhop, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State. “As reiterated in the recent Joint Statement of Principles in Support of International Education by the U.S. Departments of State and Education, the United States is strongly committed to international education as we continue to build back better.”


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