15-Year Look Back Shows Big Changes in International Student Population in US

iew_2014_logos_0Over the past 15 years, substantial changes have occurred to the landscape of international students on US university campuses.

According to data released today by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in the 2014 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, since 1999/2000, the number of international students in the US has increased by 72%, to an all-time high in 2013/14 of 886,052.

Since statistics have been collected by IIE, starting in 1948, the number of international students has increased each year, except for 1971/72 and from 2003 to 2006. The growth for the past school year of 8.1% is the largest percentage increase since 1980/81.

The top country for sending students to the US has been China over the past 15 years, with its share of total international students growing from 11% to 31%. But the rest of the top ten has seen significant shuffling.

In 1999/2000, the number-two country was Japan. Since then, their numbers have dropped by 59%, moving them down to 7th place. India, South Korea, and Canada have each moved up one spot, landing them at 2nd, 3rd, and 5th, respectively.

The countries making the biggest jumps over the past 15 years, moving into the top ten, are Saudi Arabia (from 21st to 4th), Vietnam (43rd to 8th), and Brazil (13th to 10th).

Taiwan has dropped from 5th to 6th; Mexico has held steady at 9th; and Indonesia, Thailand, and Turkey have fallen out of the top ten.

Other changes over the past 15 years are

  • The contribution of international students to the US economy has grown from $9 billion to $27 billion.
  • In 2000, schools hosting 1,000 or more internationals numbered 135. Now there are 231.
  • The majority (2/3) of international students are supported primarily by family or personal funds, but the proportion of those funded by their governments has tripled.

International education, says Evan M. Ryan, assistant secretary of state for Education and Cultural Affairs, is a key part of meeting today’s global challenges:

International education is crucial to building relationships between people and communities in the United States and around the world. It is through these relationships that together we can solve global challenges like climate change, the spread of pandemic disease, and combatting violent extremism. We also need to expand access to international education for students from more diverse backgrounds, in more diverse locations of study, getting more diverse types of degrees. Only by engaging multiple perspectives within our societies can we all reap the numerous benefits of international education—increased global competence, self-awareness and resiliency, and the ability to compete in the 21st century economy.

The fifteen-year data was compiled in conjunction with this year’s 15th anniversary of International Education Week (November 17-21), a celebration initiative by the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Education.

(“Top 25 Places of Origin of International Students, 2012/13-2013/14,” Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, Institute of International Education, 2014; “Top 25 Places of Origin of International Students, 1999/00-2000/01,” Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, Institute of International Education, 2014)


International Students—They Come to Study but Do They Stay?

Moscow State University’s main building

Russia wants its future scientists, teachers, engineers, and medical personnel to attend the world’s top graduate schools. In fact, reports the Russian-language Begin, they want it so much that the government is offering to subsidize the cost. The program, recently signed into effect by President Vladimir Putin, aims to send out about 1,000 students a year, each with an average yearly grant of 1.5 million rubles (about US$44,000).

But there’s a catch. The students must return and work in Russia for three years, or they will have to pay back the grant plus a 200% fine.

This is just one salvo in the battle for bright young minds that’s going on around the globe. Sending countries, like Russia, are worried about “brain drain,” so they want their citizens to come back with their new-found knowledge and training. And their worries aren’t unfounded, as host countries are striving to increase “stay rates,” wanting the visiting students to make themselves at home and stick around for good.

No Need to Rush Off

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), made up of 34 countries, the average stay rate for international students is 25%. Here, “staying” is defined as foreign nationals’ changing their visa status to something other than “student,” as opposed to not renewing their student permits and leaving.

Using data from 2008 and 2009, OECD further reports that in most member countries, over 20% of visiting students remain in their host countries. In Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, and France, the stay rate is over 30%.

In the US, an OECD-member country, the rates among those receiving doctorates in science and technology is much higher. Michael Finn, of the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, writes that in 2007, the one-year stay rate (counting 2006 graduates) for those in this group was 73%. The two-year stay rate was 67%; the five-year rate was 62%; and the 10-year rate was 60%. Finn’s study shows that the five sending countries with the highest five-year stay rates were China, India, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Ukraine.

Why are countries striving to increase their stay rates? One reason is economics. The ICEF Monitor reports on a study from the Netherlands showing that if 20% of their international student population (more than 58,000, compared to 819,000 in the US) stays, it would help the economy by about €740 million (approximately US$1 billion). But the immigration of foreign graduates also helps in “the development of competitive knowledge economies.” This is especially important in developed countries, which have mismatches of jobs and skills and where low birth rates are producing aging populations.

Brain Drain vs Brain Gain

Harvard’s Memorial Hall

As the competition to attract and keep the world’s scholars heats up, countries around the globe are loosening immigration restrictions to allow more international students to stay after graduation. This is especially true for graduates in the highly prized STEM fields: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

The US is no exception, with plans to attract foreign-born STEM graduates as a significant factor in several current immigration-reform proposals. For instance, President Barack Obama’s plan calls for giving a green card to PhD and master’s degree graduates in STEM fields who find work in the US. He calls it “stapling” green cards to their diplomas. In January of last year, the president described the goal this way:

If you’re a foreign student who wants to pursue a career in science or technology, or a foreign entrepreneur who wants to start a business with the backing of American investors, we should help you do that here. Because if you succeed, you’ll create American businesses and American jobs. You’ll help us grow our economy. You’ll help us strengthen our middle class.

Sounds like one more thing for Putin and Obama to spar over.

(Sergey Titov and Gregory Milov, [Google translation of Russian article] “The State Is Ready to Pay for Training Russians in Foreign Universities,” Begin, January 14, 2014; “How Is International Student Mobility Shaping Up,” Education Indicators in Focus, OECD, July, 2013; Michael G. Finn, “Stay Rates of Foreign Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, 2007,” Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, January 2010; “Increasing the ‘Stay Rate’ of International Students,” ICEF Monitor, May 30, 2013; “Creating an Immigration System for the 21st Century,” The White House)

[photos: “Moscow State University,” by Steve Jurvetson, used under a Creative Commons license; “Harvard University – Memorial Hall,” by Chen Yen Lai, used under a Creative Commons license]

Another New Year, Another New Record for International Students in the US

4290551550_474fbb9086_nThe number of international students at US colleges and universities is at an all-time high. Again.

In fact, that statement has been true for the past six years.

According to data from Open Doors 2013: Report on International Educational Exchangereleased last month by the Institute of International Education (IIE)—819,644 students from other countries were enrolled in US institutions of higher learning in 2012/13. That represents a 7% increase over the previous academic year.

The top-five sending countries remain the same: China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Canada. Students from China, making up 29% of international students in the US, grew their number by 21%, while those from Saudi Arabia increased by 31%. The number of students from India and South Korea fell by 4% and 2%, respectively, while Canada’s total rose by 2%.

Boost to the Economy

The influx of international students means an influx of dollars, as well. NAFSA: Association of International Educators reports that these students and their dependents added $24 billion to the US economy last year, and their spending supported or created.  313,000 jobs. That translates into 3 jobs for every 7 international students who come to the US. (A breakdown of the economic and job impact state by state can be found here.)

By far, the largest means of support for international students last year—constituting the primary source for 64% of students—was personal and family funds. This was followed by US colleges and universities (21%), foreign governments or universities (7%), and current employment (5%). Overall, more than 70% of funding came from outside the US.

US Is Top Destination

In 2011, there were 43 million international students worldwide—as reported by OECD, using data from the last available year. Based in part on OECD’s data, IIE determined that last year, 19% of all college and secondary students studying outside their country of origin were enrolled in the United States. The number-two country in this regard is the United Kingdom. Its 488,380 international students make up 11% of the global total. The next four host countries are China (8%), France (7%), Germany (6%), and Australia (6%).

While international students make up only 4% of the total enrollment in American colleges and universities, in Australia, more than one in four students (26%) come from outside the country. The UK (19%), France (12%), and Germany (11%) also have higher proportions of students from outside their borders. In China, the country sending the most students to the US, internationals make up only 1% of the total student population.

(“Fast Facts,” Open Doors 2013: Report on International Educational Exchange, Institute of International Education; “The Economic Benefits of International Students to the U.S. Economy, 2013” NAFSA: Association of International Educators, 2013; “Primary Source of Funding, 2011/12—2012/13,” Open Doors 2013: Report on International Educational Exchange, Institute of International Education; Education at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators, OECD, 2013; Project Atlas: Trends and Global Data 2013, Institute of International Education, 2013)

[photo: “Encyclopedia Pages Showing World Flags,” by Horia Varlan, used under a Creative Commons license]

(Too) Many International Students in the US Have No Close American Friends

For several years, while I was serving as a campus minister to international students at the University of Missouri, I kept a photo of a young Taiwanese couple tucked in my Bible. It was one of the those glamour wedding pictures that are popular in Taiwan. The husband, a student at MU, had given me the photo before he and his wife returned to their country. On the back it said, “To Craig, my best friend in America.” The trouble was, I didn’t remember much about him at all.

Of course, I met a lot of students during my five years in campus ministry. But what made this student stand out was that he considered me his best friend. Maybe I had introduced myself to him shortly after his arrival. Maybe I had given him a Bible in Chinese. Maybe I had helped him find some free furniture. Maybe I was his best friend. But that doesn’t mean I was an especially good friend.

According to Open Doors, last year there were over 720,000 international students attending US universities and colleges, and this number doesn’t include dependents who accompanied them. This total was a record high, and the numbers will surely show another increase when new data are released next month.

More Than One in Three Claim No Strong Friendships with Americans

While more and more students are coming to the US for higher education, more and more of them are finding an environment without significant friendships. This is the finding of a recent study, “Intercultural Friendship: Effects of Home and Host Region,” published in the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication.

As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the article’s author, Elisabeth Gareis, of City University of New York’s Baruch College, found that 38% of students she surveyed reported “no strong American friendships.” Students from East Asia (including China) were more likely than those from English-speaking countries to report a lack of friends, with over half of them claiming no close friendships with Americans.

Not only was there a notable difference between the students’ area of origin, but also with the place of their American university. The study, which included students studying at southern and northeastern institutions, showed that those in the Northeast were less satisfied with their friendship situation than those in the South. Likewise, students in larger metropolitan areas were less happy about their friendships than those in smaller towns.

As for the cause of the problem, 54% of the surveyed students believed that Americans were responsible for the lack of friendships, while 46% blamed their own “internal factors,” such as shyness or a lack of English skills. A report on the study in Inside Higher Ed adds that among East Asian students, nearly 80% blamed their own shortcomings.

(“Open Doors 2011 Fast Facts,” Institute of International Education; Karin Fischer, “Many Foreign Students Are Friendless in the U.S., Study Finds,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 14, 2012; Scott Jaschik, “Friendless in America,” Inside Higher Ed, June 14, 2012)

Students Disagree on Whether Americans Are Trying

Voice of America took an online survey of its Student Union readers, asking “about how American students view their international classmates (and how international students think their American classmates view them).” One hundred ten students responded—54 Americans and 56 internationals—giving the following results:

  • 60% of American students said they “relate to international students as well as or better than Americans”
  • 50% of international students in the survey reported that they “relate to Americans as well as or better than international students”
  • 45% of American respondents said that they try to get to know their international schoolmates, 20% said they do not try, and 35% said that extra effort isn’t needed*
  • 30% of international students answering the survey said that Americans try to get to know them, 50% said the Americans don’t try, and 20% said that no extra effort is needed by the Americans*
    *Results from these last two items are approximations, as they were read from a graph.

(Jessica Stahl, “Why Aren’t Americans and International Students Becoming Friends?The Student Union, Voice of America, June 19, 2012)

Feelings of Not Belonging in the US

Last year, researchers from Ohio University and CATS College in England asked international students a different set of questions, focusing on their feelings of belonging and what universities can do to help. Inside Higher Ed reports that most students in the survey “rated their sense of belonging as a five out of five and their overall satisfaction with their college as a four out of five.” But when it comes to “belonging in the U.S.”—a feeling that can be strongly influenced by friendships on and off campus—the  majority of students rated that only a two or three.

Many international students feel that their school’s student services can do more. One student said,

I had a difficult time adjusting to the U.S. culture and educational system. I thought it would be cheaper and I made no friends. I asked for help at the office of International students and I was sent to the counseling services. The counselor sent me to the psych ward because she thought I was suicidal—which was not true. It has been a very dramatic experience that schools should consider when having international students.

(Allie Grasgreen, “At Home on Campus, Not in Country,” Inside Higher Ed, April 6, 2011)

See also my post, “Can’t We Just Be Friends? Bridging the Cultural Divide on Campus

[photo: “CSUN BBQ 19,” by Parker Michael Knight, used under a Creative Commons license]