With China leading the pack, foreign students flock to US, hitting record in 2013

The Chinese characters for the United States of America
The Chinese characters for the United States of America MCT

The number of international students in the United States last year grew to a record 886,052, with China by far leading as the nation sending the most students for the fifth year in a row, according to data to be released on Monday by the Institute of International Education in cooperation with the State Department.

America’s popularity is reflected in the fact that the number of international students in the U.S. is nearly double what it was 20 years ago.

Overall, students from other nations make up 4.2 percent of all students at American colleges and universities. At some popular destination universities, however, international students make up 15 percent to 20 percent of the student body.

Meanwhile, more than 289,000 U.S. students went abroad to study in 2012-13, the latest year available. The numbers show that fewer than 10 percent of all U.S. college students study abroad during their undergraduate years.

“International experience is one of the most important components of a 21st century education, and study abroad should be viewed as an essential element of a college degree,” said Allan E. Goodman, the president of the Institute of International Education, in a release. “Learning how to study and work with people from other countries and cultures also prepares future leaders to contribute to making the world a less dangerous place."

International studies: America's biggest education partners

Last year more than 886,052 international students studied in the US making up 4.2 percent of college and university students. Over the same time, more than 289,000 U.S. students studied abroad.

View the top 25 countries Americans study abroad in or sending international students to the US below.

Source: Institute of International Education

The latest annual report shows more than 274,000 Chinese students were studying in the U.S. in 2013-14, an increase of 16.5 percent from the previous year. They made up 31 percent of all foreign students nationwide.

Chinese students mainly are self-funded, said Rajika Bhandari, deputy vice president for research and evaluation at IIE, a nonprofit group that promotes international exchanges. Its annual “Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange” is based on data from surveys of U.S. institutions of higher education.

The data show that overall, 64.7 percent of all international students said their primary source of funds was themselves and their families, while 19.3 percent said their funding was mainly from a U.S. college or university and 7.5 percent said it was mainly from a foreign government or university.

Saudi Arabia now ranks fourth in the number of students sent to America, after China, India and South Korea. There were nearly 54,000 Saudi students in 2013-14, an increase of 21 percent over 2012-13.

Brazil, which ranks 10th had more than 13,000 students in the U.S., which is just 1.5 percent of the total number of international students, but a more than 22 percent increase from the previous year.

Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Kuwait, which also had high growth, all have government-funded scholarship programs. Some Chinese students also get government scholarships, but nowhere near the rate as in the other three countries, Bhandari said in a briefing with reporters.

The State Department’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholars program gives scholarships to low-income American undergraduate students to help them study abroad for college credit. More than 17,000 students have received the grants since the program started in 2001.

The report said that U.S. students benefit from attending college with international students, who bring new perspectives to the classroom. It further noted that international students contribute to scientific and technical research and often develop longer-term business relationships in the United States.

The U.S. Department of Commerce estimated the economic impact of international students in the U.S. at more than $27 billion in 2013.

Here are some other highlights:

PERCENT OF STUDENT POPULATION: The District of Columbia has the highest percentage of international students among its total population of college students: 11.1 percent. That's followed by Massachusetts, 9.9 percent; New York, 7.6 percent; Delaware, 7.3 percent; and Washington state, 7.0 percent.

FAVORITE PLACE: California, where 121,647 (a number that was up 9.2 percent over the previous year) students spent an estimated $4 billion. (But international students make up just 4.6 percent of California’s more than 2.6 million students.)

The next most popular states (in order): New York, Texas, Massachusetts, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Florida.

TOP SCHOOLS: New York University with 11,164 international students, followed by three others with more than 10,000 students: the University of Southern California, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Columbia University.

WHERE AMERICANS GO: European countries are still the top draw. Of the more than 289,000 American students who studied abroad, 53.3 percent went to Europe, 15.7 percent to Latin America and the Caribbean, and 12.4 percent to Asia. Fewer than 5 percent went to Sub-Saharan Africa, Oceana, the Middle East and North Africa and Canada. And 41 Americans studied in Antarctica in 2012-13 (the latest information available), down from 42 the year before.