New Data Show a Record Number of International Students in the US, Let’s Welcome Them

Several years ago my family and I were finishing up our Chinese New Year’s Day at a local Taipei mall. While we stood in front of a KFC and contemplated our “festive” holiday plans, taking some food home and maybe renting a movie, a Taiwanese lady walked up to us and asked in English, “Would you like to come to my home and eat a traditional Chinese New Year’s meal?”

“But our family is so large,” we said.

Not a problem.

“Can we bring something?”

Not a thing.

But it was already 5:00 and the meal was at 6:00.

“That’s OK, we live close by, and we can come pick you up at your house.”

We accepted the invitation but protested again about all the trouble we were causing.

Her response? When she was a university student in Texas two years earlier, a family had invited her into their home, and she wanted to pass it on. (Three cheers for southern hospitality.)

Increase of International Students Remains Steady

Figures released today in the 2012 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange show that the number of international students studying at US colleges and universities during the 2011/12 school year hit an all-time high. The 764,495 students from countries outside America represents a 6% increase over the previous year.

The new data mean that the number of international students has increased for six years in a row and that over the last 10 years, the total has grown by 31%.

“International education creates strong, lasting relationships between the US and emerging leaders worldwide,” says Ann Stock, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. “Students return home with new perspectives and a global skill set that will allow them to build more prosperous, stable societies.”

Allan E. Goodman, president and CEO of the Institute of International Education, publisher of the annual Open Doors report, adds, “Academic and intellectual exchange fuels innovation and prepares the next generation for global citizenship. Today’s students will become future business and government leaders whose international experience will equip them to build a prosperous and more peaceful world.”

China Leads Surge of International Undergrads

For the first time in 12 years, the number of international undergraduate students has surpassed the number of international students attending graduate school. This is in large part because of China, which sent 194,029 students to the US in 2011/12. This is an increase for that country of 23% overall and 31% for undergraduate students. Saudi Arabia showed large increases in undergraduate enrollment, as well.

The top ten countries sending students to the US in 2011/12 were

  1. China
  2. India
  3. South Korea
  4. Saudi Arabia
  5. Canada
  6. Taiwan
  7. Japan
  8. Vietnam
  9. Mexico
  10. Turkey

The ten schools receiving the most students were

  1. University of Southern California
  2. University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign
  3. New York University
  4. Purdue University
  5. Columbia University
  6. University of California—Los Angeles
  7. Northeastern University
  8. University of Michigan—Ann Arbor
  9. Michigan State University
  10. Ohio State University

Now It’s Your Turn

We had a wonderful time that evening in Taipei, sharing a wonderful meal with our new friend, her mother, and her two brothers and their families. We ate our fill, and the mother gave each of our kids hong bao, the traditional gift of red envelopes with money inside.

For all of you who have shown kindness to international students (and other “outsiders”) by inviting them into your homes, we thank you. In Taiwan, we were the outsiders, but our Chinese New Year was brightened because a Texan’s kindness toward a student from Taiwan made a difference for us.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up, are there international students close by you who could benefit from your kindness? You don’t have to live near one of the top-ten campuses to have internationals in your community. One of the great thing about international students in the US is that they attend all sorts of institutions of higher learning—large and small, four-year and two-year, universities and community colleges—all over the country

And by helping the students near you, you may also be helping future American students studying overseas. The number of study abroad students from the US has tripled over the past 20 years. Add to that the thousands of Americans living, working, and traveling in other countries, and that means the odds are growing that your friends or relatives will someday be outside the US, hoping for someone to show them hospitality. Maybe someone will come up to them and invite them for a meal or a cup of coffee and say, “When I was a university student in America, someone invited me.”

[photo: “ISA S’Mores,” by Lafayette College, used under a Creative Commons license]


2 thoughts on “New Data Show a Record Number of International Students in the US, Let’s Welcome Them

    1. It’s really something how much the international-student demographics have changed since then. (I was a university student in the early 80s, too.)


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