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U.S. Hosts More than 1 Million International Students

© Institute of International Education
© Institute of International Education
Seven percent more international students studied at U.S. institutions last year, reaching more than 1 million and focusing on engineering, computer science and STEM.

This data come from the 2016 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs released each year.

“The Open Doors findings show that international students value the quality, diversity and strong reputation of U.S. institutions and recognize that these institutions will give them opportunities that can help them not only in their education but also in their careers,” said IIE President Allan Goodman.

“At the Institute of International Education, we believe American colleges and universities offer a premiere education and valuable training to students from around the globe and that students from other nations also teach us a lot about the world we share. The more we can open doors to other cultures for our students, the better off our country and our world will be.”

Those more than 1 million international students represent 5 percent of the total student population in the U.S. More than a third of these 1 million international students studied engineering, math or computer science: 14 percent engaged in practical training in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) professions.

"The growth in international STEM students is likely connected to the 25 percent increase in students from India, more than three quarters of who study in these fields," the report said.

Open Doors also reports on U.S. students. More than 313,000 U.S. students received credit last year for study abroad during 2014-2015. That is up nearly 3 percent from the previous year. Approximately a quarter of these students majored in STEM fields.

More U.S. students — over 22,000 in 2014-2015 — participated in work abroad that did not offer school credit or pay, the report said. Many served in internships and volunteered to gain practical skills, IIE said.

“We need to empower more of America’s future leaders to experience the world beyond our borders,” said Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. “International education helps people develop the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in today’s global economy, and creates networks across borders that improve international understanding and strengthen the national security of the United States.”

While more international students came to the U.S. to study, fewer females were among them, the reports said: Only 43 percent of international students to the U.S. during 2015-2016 were women, down from 45 percent five years ago.

The study attributed this to fewer women studying in STEM fields worldwide.

However, 67 percent of Americans studying abroad were women.

"The racial and ethnic diversity has improved modestly each year since 2004-2005, with 27 percent of U.S. students who studied abroad in 2014-15 identified as racial or ethnic minorities, up from 17 percent a decade ago. Open Doors reports that about 5 percent of those who studied abroad were people with disabilities.

“Studying abroad is one of the best ways to prepare to enter and succeed in the interconnected, globalized workforce, yet 90 percent of American college students do not study or intern outside of the United States. We owe it to the next generation of Americans to find ways to make it more accessible to a wider range of students,” said IIE’s President, Dr. Allan E. Goodman. “Some U.S. students studying in STEM fields had found it challenging to study abroad. But this is changing, and global experience is increasingly crucial to success in all fields.”

While Europe hosts more than half of U.S. students abroad, Cuba, Mexico and Greece experienced the highest rate of growth with an 18 percent increase. "Open Doors data indicate the Ebola crisis likely deterred U.S. students from traveling to sub-Saharan Africa, as the number of U.S. students in that region fell by 20 percent," the report said.

Other key findings include:

  • China and India remained the top countries to send students to the U.S. and accounted for 84 percent of the growth in international students in 2015-2016.

  • Saudi Arabia surpassed South Korea to become the third-largest sender of international students to the United States. Saudi Arabia saw a sharp decline in students to the U.S. after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.

  • Brazil sent 18 percent fewer students to the U.S. in 2015-2016, likely because of "a freeze" in the Brazilian government’s Scientific Mobility Program.

  • California hosted nearly 150,000 international students in 2015-2016, making it the top destination for students from abroad. Four of the top 20 U.S. host institutions for international students were located in California, with the University of Southern California ranking second, just behind New York University.

  • New York is the second leading host state, and New York City is the leading host metropolitan area.

  • International students bring nearly $36 billion to the U.S. economy, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

For more data, infographics and resources on the 2016 "Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange," visit

Open Doors is published by the Institute of International Education, "an independent not-for-profit organization with a network of 19 offices and affiliates worldwide and over 1,400 member institutions," according to its website, with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State.

The ECA "builds relations between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through academic, cultural, sports, professional and private sector exchanges, as well as public-private partnerships and mentoring programs," according to its website. Approximately 50,000 participants partake in these exchange programs, including the Fulbright Program and the International Visitor Leadership Program. ECA also sponsors the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarships for U.S. undergraduates with financial need, the Critical Language Scholarship Program in support of U.S. foreign language study abroad, and the EducationUSA network of over 400 advising centers worldwide.

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