2015 Open Doors Report Shows 10% Increase of US International Students

November 16, 2015 – The 2015 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, released today, finds the number of international students at U.S. colleges and universities had the highest rate of growth in 35 years, increasing by ten percent to a record high of 974,926 students in the 2014/15 academic year. This strong growth confirms that the United States remains the destination of choice in higher education. The United States hosts more of the world’s 4.5 million globally mobile college and university students than any other country in the world, almost double the number hosted by the United Kingdom, the second leading host country.
Graduation ceremony at Harvard University(file photo).

The report also found the number of U.S. students studying abroad increased by five percent in 2013/14, the highest rate of growth since before the 2008 economic downturn. While study abroad by American students has more than tripled in the last two decades, reaching a new high of 304,467, still only about 10 percent of U.S. students study abroad before graduating from college. The Open Doors® report is published annually by the Institute of International Education in partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The release of the new Open Doors data marks the celebration of International Education Week (IEW), a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education to prepare Americans for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experiences in the United States. The statistics reported in IIE’s Open Doors document how internationalized U.S. higher education has become, with a large growth in student mobility at host and sending institutions representing all types of colleges and universities and located across the United States.

“We are excited to see that record numbers of students are taking advantage of international education opportunities, and we applaud the efforts of U.S. higher education as we work together to increase the number of American students who study abroad,” said Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. “It is critical that we continue to make study abroad more accessible. These exchanges strengthen ties between the United States and countries around the world. By increasing accessibility to study abroad, we are investing in our future and providing a forum to solve global challenges.”

“International experience is one of the most important components of a 21st century education,” said IIE’s President Dr. Allan E. Goodman. “Studying abroad is one of the best ways undergraduate and graduate students gain the international experience necessary to succeed in today’s global workforce. And studying in another country prepares students to be real contributors to working across borders to address key issues in the world we share.”

In 2014/15, there were 88,874 more international students enrolled in U.S. higher education compared to the previous year. India, China and Brazil account for most of the growth in international students on U.S. campuses. While China remains the top country of origin of international students in the U.S., increasing by 11 percent to 304,040, India’s growth outpaced China’s this year, with students from India increasing by 29.4 percent to a record high of 132,888. This is the highest rate of growth for Indian students in the history of the Open Doors project, which spans back to 1954/55. The last time India grew at a comparable rate (29.1) was in 2000/01 when the number of students from India exceeded 50,000 for the first time. In 2014/15, China and India together accounted for 67 percent of the increase in international students, and they now constitute nearly 45 percent of the total number of international students in U.S. higher education.

There were large increases in the number of students from Brazil, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, all countries whose governments are investing heavily in international scholarships for their students, sending tens of thousands of them abroad to develop a globally competent workforce. Nigeria also ranked among the fastest growing international student populations in the United States. Students from Brazil increased 78 percent to 23,675 this year, accounting for 12 percent of total growth. Latin America & the Caribbean was the fastest growing region of origin for international students in the U.S., increasing by 19 percent over the prior year, and benefiting from the support of 100,000 Strong in the Americas, a public-private partnership led by the U.S. State Department, as well as other initiatives launched by governments in the region.

International graduate students at U.S. institutions increased more than international undergraduate students, reversing a two-year trend in which undergraduates accounted for the greater number of new students. This is largely because most of the students coming from India were studying at the graduate level. The increase in undergraduate students from China, which drove overall numbers in recent years, was at a lower rate of growth in 2014/15 than in prior years. However, 2014/15 was the first year ever that Chinese undergraduates outnumbered Chinese graduate students.

International students’ spending in all 50 states contributed more than $30 billion to the U.S. economy in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Additional breakdowns of the economic impact of international students by host state are available from NAFSA, which conducts a detailed regional, state, and congressional district analysis on the economic benefits of spending by international students and their dependents to the U.S. economy, using Open Doors data combined with calculations of the local tuition and cost of living rates.

Forty-four states plus the District of Columbia hosted more international students compared to the previous year. Among the top 10 host states, five had double-digit growth rates – Texas increased by 18 percent, California by 11 percent, and Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Ohio by 10 percent each. New York University was the leading host university for international students for the second year in a row. Eight institutions hosted more than 10,000 international students: New York University, University of Southern California, Columbia University, Arizona State University, University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign, Northeastern University, Purdue University – West Lafayette and University of California – Los Angeles.

Study Abroad by U.S. Students

The Open Doors report also surveys U.S. colleges and universities regarding the number and destinations of their students who study abroad. Five percent more American students – a total of 304,467 – studied abroad for academic credit from their U.S. colleges and universities in 2013/14 as compared with the prior year. This is the highest rate of growth in study abroad in five years, since the nine percent increase in 2007/08. Study abroad decreased slightly following the 2008 economic downturn, followed by modest increases in recent years. American students studying abroad in the United Kingdom, the perennial leading host destination, increased by six percent to 38,250; the UK hosted thirteen percent of all Americans who study abroad for credit at home institutions in the United States. However, there were also large increases in the number of students going to other host countries in Europe, Latin America and other regions.

Notably, double digit growth in the number of American students studying in Mexico, Chile, and Peru contributed to an eight percent rise in study abroad to the Latin American and Caribbean region. The number of U.S. students in Cuba rose for the ninth consecutive year, increasing 13 percent to 1,845 students. Ireland and Germany each had a nine percent increase. Among the top 25 host countries, only three—China, South Africa, and Argentina—hosted fewer U.S. students compared to the previous year.

American students majoring in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields represent the largest proportion of students studying abroad at nearly 23 percent, slightly outnumbering Business and the Social Sciences majors, which made up just under 20 percent and 19 percent of study abroad students respectively. But compared to the 36 percent of all U.S. undergraduates who major in STEM fields, STEM students are still under-represented in study abroad.

To address the challenge of encouraging more U.S. students to study abroad, IIE created Generation Study Abroad, a national campaign to double the number of students who study abroad by the end of the decade. In addition to significantly expanding study abroad numbers, the campaign encourages and tracks campus activities that expand diversity in race and ethnicity, academic disciplines, and destinations of those who study abroad. A total of 600 partners have joined the GSA initiative to date. They include 350 U.S. colleges and universities from 48 states as well as higher education institutions and organizations in other countries, education associations, organizations including study abroad, K-12, and social network agencies, and 14 U.S. and foreign country partners.

The U.S. Department of State sends over 7,000 Americans overseas every year through its exchange programs and has launched a U.S.study abroad office within its Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which is dedicated to encouraging more Americans, from more diverse backgrounds, to prepare for their future by studying abroad. The new U.S. study abroad office will complement the State Department’s worldwide network of EducationUSA advising centers, which provide millions of international students with accurate, current, and comprehensive information about studying in the United States.

Open Doors is published by the Institute of International Education, an independent not-for-profit organization with a network of 19 offices and affiliates worldwide and over 1,400 member institutions. IIE designs and implements programs of study and training for students, educators, young professionals and trainees from all sectors with funding from government agencies, foundations, and corporations. IIE has conducted an annual statistical survey of the international students in the United States since its founding in 1919 and in partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs since 1972. Open Doors also reports on the number of international scholars at U.S. universities; international students enrolled in pre-academic Intensive English Programs; and on U.S. students studying abroad. Further details on the Open Doors 2015 surveys and their findings is on the Open Doors website, and the full 100+ page report can be ordered for $79.95 from IIE Books.

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State leads a wide range of academic, professional, and cultural exchanges that include approximately 50,000 participants annually, including the flagship Fulbright Program and the International Visitor Leadership Program, with the goal of increasing mutual understanding and respect between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. ECA also sponsors the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarships for U.S. undergraduates with financial need, the Critical Language Scholarship Program in support of U.S. study abroad, and theEducationUSA network of over 400 advising centers worldwide, which provides information to students around the globe who wish to study in the United States. For more information on the Department of State’s educational and cultural exchange activities, visit www.exchanges.state.gov.

OPEN DOORS 2015: DATA HIGHLIGHTS – Executive Summary

International Students in the US

Overview: The number of international students enrolled in U.S. higher education increased by ten percent to 974,926 students in 2014/15, with 88,874 more students than last year enrolled in colleges and universities across the United States. This marks the ninth consecutive year that Open Doors reported expansion in the total number of international students in U.S. higher education and the highest rate of growth in 35 years. There are now 73 percent more international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities than were reported a decade ago, and the rate of increase has risen steadily for the past five years. International students now constitute almost five percent of the more than 20 million students enrolled in U.S. higher education, up from around four percent in previous years. This increase is due to both the growing numbers of international students and a small decline in the number of American students enrolled in U.S. higher education.

Places of Origin: After seven years of growth driven largely by students from China, this year’s largest growth was in the number of students from India, primarily at the graduate level. 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 and absolute increases outpaced China’s. There were also large increases in students from several countries where the national governments have been investing in scholarship programs to send their students abroad. This year, there was a 78 percent increase in students from Brazil, to more than 23,000 students. Brazil moved up to the number six sending country (compared to number 10 the previous year), reflecting the third full year of undergraduate students coming to the United States with scholarships from the Brazilian Government’s Brazil Scientific Mobility Program, as well as growing interest in U.S. study among other Brazilian students. There was an 11 percent increase in the number of students from Saudi Arabia, bringing Saudi students in the United States to nearly 60,000, largely funded by the Saudi government scholarship program, now approaching its 12th year. On a smaller scale, the continued expansion of the Kuwaiti government scholarship programs led to 24 percent more students coming from Kuwait. With its more than 9,000 students, Kuwait is now the 16th leading place of origin, rising from the 21st place the previous year. Students from Iran increased by 11 percent to 11,338, marking the seventh year of double-digit growth and the highest U.S. enrollment by Iranians in 27 years, but still significantly lower than the peak of more than 50,000 Iranian students in the United States in 1979. From 1974 to 1983, Iran was the top sender of international students to the United States.

Students from the top three countries of origin – China, India, and South Korea – now represent approximately 51 percent of the total enrollment of international students in the United States, with the number from China and India increasing, and the numbers from South Korea declining by six percent. This year, South Korean and Saudi students each represent seven percent and six percent of the total, respectively. After these top four countries, no country represents more than three percent of the total international students in the United States. Despite a four percent decline, Canada remains the fifth leading place of origin.

Each of the top 25 places of origin had more than 6,000 students in the United States. There were increases in the number of students from 16 of the top 25 places of origin, including China, India, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Vietnam, Mexico, Iran, United Kingdom, Nigeria, Kuwait, France, Indonesia, Venezuela, Malaysia, Colombia, and Spain.

The number of students from Germany and Nepal remained relatively flat. Taiwan, Japan, Turkey, Hong Kong and Thailand saw very slight decreases of less than two percent each. South Korea saw a steep decline from the previous year (down six percent), and Canada decreased by 3 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.

Economic and Academic Impacts: The continued growth in international students coming to the U.S. for higher education has a significant positive economic impact. International students contributed more than $30 billion to the U.S. economy in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Open Doors 2015 reports that about 73 percent 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 globalization of campuses across the United States continues, with 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 more than 120,000 international students for the second year in a row, followed by New York, Texas, Massachusetts and Illinois. Four of the top ten destinations saw double digit growth: Texas, with an 18 percent increase, California, with an 11 percent increase, and Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio with increases of about 10 percent. All but six states saw increases in international enrollments in 2014/15, as did the District of Columbia.

Host Campuses: For the second year in a row, New York University hosted the largest number of international students. The University of Southern California remains the second leading host for the second year; previously, it had been the leading host institution for twelve years. These two universities were followed by Columbia University (moving up to #3 from #4), Arizona State University (included in the top five for the first time, jumping to #4 from #8), and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (moving from #3 to #5). Combined, the top 25 campuses hosted 21 percent of all international students in the United States. In 2004/05, there were 145 institutions that hosted 1,000 or more international students, while the new Open Doors reported 245 institutions hosting 1,000 or more international students in 2014/15.

Metropolitan Areas: New York City is once again the top metropolitan area for international students, followed by Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago, each with approximately a nine percent increase. The fifth leading host metropolitan area, San Francisco, had a five percent increase. All of the top 50 metropolitan areas with the exception of Gainesville, Florida had increases this year, with eight metro areas showing increases of 20 percent or more: Kansas City KS-MO; Phoenix, AZ; Detroit, MI; Tucson, AZ; San Diego, CA; Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL; Rochester, NY; and College Station, TX.

U.S. Students Studying Abroad

Overview: In the 2013/14 academic year, 304,467 American students studied abroad for academic credit, an increase of five percent, the highest rate of growth since the 2007/08 academic year. Study abroad by American students has more than tripled in the past two decades, from in 1993/94. However, the rate of growth had slowed in recent years; the increase was about 60 percent in the past 10 years, from about 191,000 students in 2003/04, and only 17 percent over the past five years, from 260,327 in 2008/09.

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 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.

Destinations: Open Doors 2015 reports that U.S. students studied in increasing numbers in Latin America and the Caribbean, growing by 8.4 percent (to 49,312 students). After five years of declining numbers of U.S. students, Mexico led the region’s growth for U.S. study abroad, increasing by 19 percent to host 4,445 students. There were also large increases in students studying in Chile (up 16 percent to 3,333 students), Peru (up 15 percent to 3,396 students), and Ecuador (up 8 percent to 3,699 students), as well as smaller increases for Costa Rica (up 1 percent) and Brazil (up 0.1 percent). The United Kingdom remains the leading destination for American students, followed by Italy, Spain, France and China – which remained the fifth largest host destination despite a five percent decrease. Germany and Ireland had strong increases, as did Greece, which moved back into the top 25 list this year. Other leading destinations in Asia saw increases in study abroad: Japan (up four percent), India (up five percent), and South Korea (up six percent). There were decreases in the number of U.S. students going to South Africa (down seven percent to 4,968 students) and Argentina (down 6 percent to 4,301 students).

Fields of Study: American students majoring in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) represent 23 percent of study abroad students, slightly outnumbering study abroad students in Business and Management and the Social Sciences, which made up just under 20 percent and 19 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 2015 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, from over 300 colleges able to track and report this kind of information.