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International Student Enrollment at U.S. Colleges and Universities Rose 3 percent in 2009-10

November 17, 2010

In spite of the recent recession, the number of international students attending American higher education institutions rose 3 percent from 2008-09 to 2009-10, according to the 2010 edition of "Open Doors," an annual survey report from the Institute of International Education (IIE). The growth in total international enrollments was primarily driven by a dramatic 30 percent increase in the number of students from China. Chinese students now account for 18 percent of total international enrollment in the United States. Students from India, the second largest sending nation, grew 2 percent, and account for 15 percent of the total. On the other hand, enrollments from South Korea, the third largest sending country, fell nearly 4 percent, and the number of students from Canada, the fourth, declined more than 5 percent.

In total, approximately 691,000 students from foreign countries were enrolled at American colleges and universities in academic year 2009-10. About 42 percent of these students were enrolled in graduate/professional programs, 40 percent were undergraduates, and 18 percent were in non-degree programs. International students account for roughly 3.5 percent of the total enrollment at U.S. higher education institutions. Over the past decade, the total number of international students grew 26 percent, while total enrollment at all U.S. colleges and universities rose 28 percent.

Economic Contributions of International Students

In a separate analysis, "Special Reports: Economic Impact of International Students," NASFA: Association of International Educators used data from "Open Doors" and other sources to estimate that international students contributed $18.8 billion to the U.S. economy in 2009-10. Because international students are not eligible for federal student financial aid, the majority (about 64 percent) of their funds came from their families and other personal resources. These funds helped students pay tuition, fees, room, board, transportation, and other expenses. Higher education and other industries were the beneficiaries of these expenditures. California had the largest net contribution from international students (about $2.8 billion), followed by New York ($2.3 billion), and Texas and Massachusetts ($1.3 billion each).

U.S. Students Studying Abroad

IIE's survey also estimates that more than 260,000 American students studied abroad for academic credit in 2008-09. While the number of U.S. students studying in foreign countries for at least part of the academic year more than doubled over the past decade, the number in such programs fell by 1 percent from 2006-07 to 2007-08, possibly reflecting the effects of the beginning of the economic recession during that time span. Study abroad trends varied by country. The number of students going to Italy fell nearly 11 percent, and the number in the United Kingdom, Spain, and France declined 2 percent or more. In contrast, South Korea and Peru experienced jumps in American students of 29 percent or more, and Argentina saw a 14 percent increase.

A summary of the 2010 "Open Doors" report is available from the IIE Web site A state-by-state analysis of the economic contributions of international students is available from the NASFA Web site.


Ken Redd
Director, Research and Policy Analysis