What the Numbers Say about International Education

November 16, 2012

By Michael Feighner

New reports released on Tuesday reveal increases across the board in international education participation, a sign that higher education is recognizing and promoting the value of educational exchange. As the data show, the United States still has plenty of room for growth, and the benefits are numerous.

NAFSA’s annual economic impact analysis illustrates the financial impact that international students and their dependents have on the U.S. economy. During the 2011-2012 academic year, according to NAFSA’s calculations, these students contributed more than $21.81 billion through tuition, fees, and living expenses. You can explore various breakdowns of the data and discover the economic impact of international students by state, congressional district, and institution.

International students make more than financial contributions, however. “They bring incalculable academic value to U.S. colleges and universities, and cultural value to local communities as international enrollment grows," said NAFSA Executive Director and CEO Marlene M. Johnson.

NAFSA also released data on U.S. students studying abroad, offering statistics on ethnicity and study destinations. Additionally, you can compare your institution’s study abroad rates to your state or the national average. While the number of students studying abroad continues to increase, less than 2 percent of all U.S. students enrolled in higher education are participating in study abroad programs.

"There is much more we can do as a nation to promote student exchange and study abroad, and this data clearly points to the potential future benefit of a cohesive and proactive international education strategy for our nation,” added Johnson.

At the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, the Institute of International Education (IIE) released its annual Open Doors report, providing statistics on international students in the United States and on U.S. students studying abroad. IIE also released new data from Project Atlas, a report on student mobility worldwide.

Allan Goodman, IIE’s president and CEO, kicked off the event by introducing his fellow panelists: Ann Stock, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs; Peggy Blumenthal, senior counselor to the president of IIE; and Rajika Bhandari, IIE’s deputy vice president of research and evaluation.

Stock spoke of the importance of international education, saying that the data show that U.S. institutions are committed to going global, but that more work needs to be done to promote study abroad.

Blumenthal and Bhandari presented some of the numbers found in the Open Doors and Project Atlas reports and highlighted several trends in international education. Of note, record highs were reported in international student enrollment in the United States and the number of U.S. students participating in study abroad. Nearly 765,000 students from foreign countries studied in U.S. institutions in 2011-2012, and more than 270,000 U.S. students studied abroad in 2010-2011.

International student enrollment increased 5.7 percent, but U.S. study abroad only rose 1.3 percent. Chinese students now account for a quarter of international students, and for the first time in a decade, international undergraduate students outnumber international graduate students.

For study abroad students, four of the top five destinations are located in Western Europe, but 14 of the top 25 countries are located outside of the region. Countries such as Costa Rica, India, and Brazil reported U.S. study abroad enrollment increases of 10 percent or more.

Despite the gains, of all U.S. students enrolled in higher education, only 1.3 percent participated in study abroad. As reported in Insider Higher Ed, Goodman spoke of the need to increase the study abroad numbers. “We have to change the paradigm of university education to make this the normal thing for students to do,” said Goodman, “or else we’re going to have a decade of 1 percent growth, which is not enough."

The information released on Tuesday presents a strong case for increased internationalization efforts. Have you used these reports before to advocate for more study abroad participation or international students on your campus and in your community? Will you bring these numbers to the attention of your school’s leadership?


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