There Are More International Students in the US than Ever Before—How Many Get to See the Inside of an American Home?

November 21, 2018 § 2 Comments

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When I worked with students from other countries at the University of Missouri-Columbia back in the late 80s and early 90s, I heard this statistic: Eighty percent of international students don’t step foot inside an American home. I had no reason to argue with that statistic, but I’ve spent the years since then trying, in vain, to track down the source.

Seems that I’m not alone.

In a recent post at Christianity Today, Leiton Chinn, a long-time leader in ministry to international students, writes,

Ever since I began encouraging the church to welcome and host international students over four decades ago, I have heard the repetitive declaration that 80% of international students never enter an American home. Even though I have sought to find the research that reported such a claim without success, the reality is that the majority of students from other countries do not experience being hosted in an American home.

Was 80% ever an accurate figure? Who knows? Without a reliable source, it’s not much more than a convenient, easy-to-remember number that says “too many.” And even if it was true forty-ish years ago, chances are it wouldn’t be exactly the same now.

That being said, I would tend to agree with Chinn that “the majority of students from other countries do not experience being hosted in an American home,” but I can’t say that for sure. And I can’t guess at how much that “majority” would be. To muddy it up even more, I wonder how we should define a “home.” Would the apartment of an American friend count?

Regardless, when it comes to having international students in our homes, we could do better.

There are some numbers concerning international students (and study abroad) that we can be sure of—because they’re tracked carefully each year. They come from the Institute of International Education, which just released its newest figures at the Open Doors briefing on Tuesday. They include the following:

  • For the 2017-18 school year, the number of international students at universities and colleges in the US was at an all-time high of 1,094,792.
  • While this represents a 1.5% increase over the previous year, the number of new-student enrollments decreased by 6.6%.
  • The overall increase was fueled largely by a 15.8% growth in the number of students participating in Optional Practical Training (OPT), which lets students work in the US for up to 12 months during or following their academic studies (up to 36 months for those in the STEM fields).
  • While the number of undergraduate and OPT students grew over the previous year, there was a decline in graduate and non-degree students.
  • China leads the way in sending the most students to the US, making up 33.2% of the total. The rest of the top-five sending countries are India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Canada.
  • In 2015-16, Saudi Arabia was ranked number three, but its numbers fell by 14.2% and 15.5% in the next two years.
  • The number of US students studying abroad grew by 2.3% in 2016-17, reaching 332,727, which means that about 1 in 10 American students study abroad as undergraduates.
  • US study-abroad students who identify as racial or ethnic minorities represented 29.2% of the total. This is a significant increase over the 17% of 2005-06.
  • The top five countries receiving US students are the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, and Germany. China held the fifth spot in 2014-15, but dropped to sixth for the two years following.

For a good analysis of the reasons for the decline in new international students, read The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s “Is the ‘Trump Effect’ Scaring Away Prospective International Students?” In short, citing the Institute of International Education and the U.S. State Department, the author says that the drop is due to more than presidential rhetoric and policies. Instead, he points to increasing higher-education costs in the US, diminished funding from government programs in other countries that help send students abroad, and increased competition from other countries attracting international students to their schools.

Hmmmmm. I wonder if those other countries are doing a better job of inviting international students into their homes.

(Leiton Chinn, “Making Room at Your Table for Interventional Students,” The Exchange, Christianity Today, November 9, 2018; Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, Institute of International Education, 2018; Vimal Patel, “Is the ‘Trump Effect’ Scaring Away Prospective International Students?” The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 13, 2018)

[photo: “International Student Festival 2012,” by Illinois Springfield, used under a Creative Commons license]

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