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Number of International Students in U.S. Up 5 Percent

November 15, 2011

In academic year 2010-11, the number of international students attending colleges and universities in the U.S. increased to 723,277 students, a new record high, according to the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) 2011 “Open Doors” report. The number of international students has jumped 32 percent over the past decade, despite declines in foreign students during the years following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. While the number of students from abroad has increased, their share of total enrollment at U.S. institutions of higher learning has remained at around 4 percent since 2000-01.

Students from Saudi Arabia had the largest percentage increase in enrollment (44 percent), while the number from China rose 23 percent. Chinese enrollment represents nearly 22 percent of the total international students on American college campuses, the largest share of foreign college attendees. In contrast, the number of attendees from Japan fell 14 percent, enrollments of Kenyan students declined 7 percent, and the number from Taiwan dropped 7 percent.

The vast majority (62 percent) of international students attended research and doctoral-granting universities, followed by master’s level institutions (18 percent), and associate’s granting schools (12 percent). International student enrollment at associate’s-level colleges declined approximately 3 percent over the past year, while the number at research/doctoral institutions rose about 7 percent.

American Students Studying Abroad

The number of American students studying overseas has also increased in recent years. In 2009-10, the most recent year of available data, 270,604 American students were engaged in study abroad programs for academic credit, a 4 percent increase over the prior academic year and more than 200 percent increase over the past 20 years. Most Americans studying overseas were attending European universities—colleges in the United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain collectively enrolled 32 percent of study-abroad Americans in 2009-10. However, institutions in Israel had the highest increase in U.S. student enrollment (61 percent), followed by India (44 percent). 

The Institute of International Education (IIE) has conducted an annual census of international students in the U.S. since its founding in 1919. More information about the 2011 “Open Doors” report is available from the IIE Web site.


Ken Redd
Director, Research and Policy Analysis