Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing.
A new report from the Institute of International Education says that in the academic year 2013-2014, more than 886,000 foreign students enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions, an increase of 8 percent over the year before. There are now twice as many international students in the U.S. than only a decade ago. That trend is driven to a large extent by incoming undergraduate students from China.
"In the U.S. they emphasize class discussions, and your opinion, and the capacity to debate with others, such as professor or teacher, and that is an atmosphere I want to experience," said Eric Xu, a Chinese student studying at Columbia University, in New York.
While the enrollment of Chinese students continues to grow, the past academic year saw a significant increase in students from Kuwait, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and even Iran. More than 4 percent of the students in U.S. higher education institutions are foreigners. Educators say the presence of foreign students in American schools is beneficial, and that about 4,000 U.S. colleges and universities can accommodate more.
"We know that international students contribute significantly to U.S. classrooms and campuses through their global perspectives and by providing international exposure to those American students who may never have the opportunity to study overseas," said Rajika Bhandari, Vice President of the Institute of International Education.
Enrollment of students from abroad also adds to the U.S. economy.
"This year, $27 billion was contributed to our economy at the local state and national levels, through payments for tuition, housing and other costs," said Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for education.
The U.S. State Department and the Department of Education also promote study abroad for U.S. students.
"We believe that study abroad can increase American competitiveness by enabling U.S. students to acquire language skills as well as the regional and global perspectives necessary to succeed in the 21st century," said Ryan.
About 290,000 U.S. students went to study abroad in 2012-2013 for academic credit. Europe, especially Britain, remains the number one destination for American students, but the latest "Open Door" report shows that more students now choose to go to Latin American countries and China.
"China now is the number five host country for U.S. students, hosting over 14,000 American students," said Christine Farrugia of the International Institute of Education.
While U.S. schools continue to attract young people from all over the world, student exchanges among other countries also are on the rise.