International students top one million for first time

istudentsThe number of international students enrolled in United States colleges and universities topped one million last year for the first time, an annual tally says. And US students earning academic credit abroad continues to climb, though at a much slower rate of growth and in far fewer numbers. 

US universities enrolled 1,043,839 foreign students last year, and 313,415 US students studied abroad in 2014-15, the latest year for which that dataset is available, according to Open Doors, released by the non-profit Institute of International Education or IIE. The report showed a similar pattern in annual rates of increase: 2.9% among US students going overseas and 7.1% among foreign students coming to the United States. 

The findings were released on Monday in conjunction with the kickoff to International Education Week, a joint venture between the US State and Education departments designed to promote the importance of international education exchange. 

An annual report by NAFSA, an association for international educators, will again provide state-by-state details on the financial benefits of international exchange. International students come from more than 200 countries and contributed about US$35 billion into the US economy in 2015, data from the US Commerce Department show. 

Among other Open Doors’ findings: 

  • The US institutions drawing the most international students were New York University (15,543), University of Southern California (13,340), Arizona State University (12,751), Columbia University (12,740) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (12,085). 
  • China remains the top country of origin, with almost twice the number of students in the US as India, but India’s rate of growth outpaced China’s. Enrolments from India grew 24.9%, to 165,918 students. 
  • Optional practical training enrolments increased 22.6% last year, while undergraduate and graduate enrolments each increased 7.1% and 6.0%, respectively. A federal rule this year lengthened the extension for OPT students in the STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – fields from 17 to 24 months, and enables students to apply for an extension twice during their academic career. 
  • Saudi Arabia sent the third-largest number of students, 61,287, to the United States, followed by South Korea, which dropped to fourth place following a 4.2% drop in enrolments, to 61,007.
  • Europe continues to host more than half of all US students going abroad, with about a third of all US students choosing the United Kingdom, Italy or Spain in the 2014-15 academic year. 
  • The Ebola crisis likely deterred US students from traveling to Sub-Saharan Africa; that region saw a 20% drop. 
  • An 18.2% drop in US enrolments from Brazil was the most dramatic decline, and was attributed primarily to the Brazilian government’s freeze on the budget of its Scientific Mobility Program, which had sponsored many Brazilian students’ US studies.