Foreign student enrollment in the United States is on the rebound, and more American students are studying abroad. Those are some of the findings released this week by a national organization that tracks student exchange programs in the United States.
The number of foreign students studying in US colleges and universities went down a bit -- 1.3 percent this year. But the Institute of International Education, IIE says that's an improvement from the year before when enrollment numbers dropped 2.4 percent.
IIE president Allan Goodman says the "Open Doors" report may indicate a turning point after two years of declines. "We've had an extraordinary four years, natural disasters, terrorist attacks against America and other countries and yet international students and scholars are still traveling."
India, China and South Korea led the way among the countries sending students to the United States. Their top destinations: California, New York and Texas.
The sharpest drops came from predominantly Muslim countries: Pakistan, down 14 percent and Indonesia, 13 percent.
Factors cited most often by foreign students who chose to go to countries other than the U.S. included long visa delays and high tuition fees.
Despite progress in eliminating security-related delays and visa admissions, Mr. Goodman says perceptions are hard to break. "There is a perception abroad that it will be very difficult to get a visa, or if you're a male between the ages of 14 and 45, that it will be very hard. The reality is different, but the perceptions take a long time to change."
The report says international students contributed more than $13 billion to the U.S. economy last year. IIE officials say foreign students coming to America also play a harder to quantify but equally important role.
Hey Kyung Koh is one of the authors of the report.
"Some stay away because of America's image in the world right now, a lot of times people who have come to study in the U.S. do go back home and spread the news that well, not all Americans are that way."
But some educators say the U.S. will continue to lose out to other countries unless universities change the rules. Professional guidelines prohibit American colleges and universities from paying recruiters to attract foreign students.
Mitch Leventhal, who heads international recruiting at the University of Cincinnati says that puts U.S. institutions at a competitive disadvantage.
"I think we need to face the facts that the global recruiting environment has changed and that we need to compete against the major universities around the world who are attracting students effectively."
Mr. Leventhal says Australian universities paid agents to recruit more than 60 percent of their foreign students last year compared with under 10 percent in the US.
Half of the international students now studying in the U.S. attend only about 100 of more than 4,000 accredited universities.
Mr. Goodman says college heads can no longer afford to be complacent.
"Many colleges and universities need to take their first trip abroad, their president needs to take their first trip abroad, their provost needs to send the message that international students are welcome on our campus, are welcome in our community.
More than 565,000 international students are currently enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. Educators say that's about the same level before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.