U.S. Sees Record Number of International College Students

Chinese student enrollment in U.S. schools increased by 21 percent in 2012-2013.

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The United States enrolled the highest number of international students in its history during the 2012-2013 school year, welcoming 819,644 undergraduate and graduate students to colleges and universities throughout the country, according to a report released today.

The "2013 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange," an annual survey of study abroad trends for U.S. and international students, found the number of international students studying in the U.S. has increased for seven consecutive years. There are now 40 percent more international students studying in the U.S. than 10 years ago, according to the report by the Institute of International Education.

The influx of students has given the U.S. an economic boost, the authors argue. Students from abroad added approximately $24 billion to the U.S. economy.

Relatively few of those students rely significantly on scholarships from U.S. universities. About 72 percent of international students receive most of their funds from personal and family sources or from their home country governments or universities, the report found.

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Students from China, India and South Korea now make up 49 percent of the total number of international students in the United States.

Much of the increase in international students stems from China. The number of Chinese students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities increased by 21 percent in total to almost 235,000 students, according to the report. That number jumped to 26 percent at the undergraduate level.

Yige Li, a 19-year-old freshman at Missouri's Westminster College, is one of the thousands of Chinese students who came to the U.S. to study. Her home city of Beijing has a variety of high-quality schools, she says. But she craved an environment that would allow her to explore her interests in English, political science and other disciplines within the humanities.

"Many students in China have to decide their major before entering into college," she says. "They don't have any more chances to discover what their views are and what kinds of opportunities they have. I think the universities here provide a kind of freedom for students to choose their own path. That attracts me."

For Chinese students studying in America, the most popular academic discipline is business and management. Indian students tend to be interested in science, technology, engineering and math majors, the so-called STEM fields, while South Korean students are often interested in business and the fine arts, IIE officials say.

The report found significant increases in the number of undergraduate students studying in the United States from Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, a trend it attributed to scholarship programs promoting studying in the U.S.

The number of students from India was down 4 percent for the second year, a trend tied to the weak rupee, according to the report's authors. South Korea had a 2 percent decline in the number of students it sent to the U.S.

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South Korea sent large numbers of graduate students to the U.S. for the past 20 years, says Peggy Blumenthal, senior counselor to the president at the Institute of International Education. Today, many of them are teaching at South Korean universities.

"There is less need for the next generation of students to come here," she says. "Their own institutions are very strong."

International students were drawn to California, which enrolled more than 100,000 international students for the second year in a row, according to the report. New York came in second for top U.S. states hosting international students, followed by Texas, Massachusetts and Illinois.

Among the top 10 destinations, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Indiana had the highest rates of growth, with increases of 10 to 13 percent.

New York City was once again the top metropolitan area for international students. Six of the top 20 metropolitan areas – Boston, Dallas, Seattle, San Diego, Pittsburgh and Baltimore – had increases of more than 10 percent.