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International Student Enrollment Rebounds


The number of international students enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions during the 2005-06 academic year remained flat at 564,766 students, ending a two-year decline, according to “Open Doors 2006,” the annual report released today by the Institute of International Education.

The report comes as U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret and a delegation of U.S. college and university presidents travel to Japan, Korea and China this week to send the message international students are welcomed and valued.

America’s colleges have begun to see positive results from their proactive efforts to recruit international students, said Dr. Allan E. Goodman, president and CEO of IIE. However, “the U.S. has a huge untapped capacity to meet the growing worldwide demand for higher education,” he said.

According to the report, India continued to send the most students — 76,503 students for 2005-06 —  although that figure represented a 5 percent drop from the previous year. Mainland China remained in second place, with its numbers steady at 62,582. There were significant increases in the number of students from the Republic of Korea (up 10 percent to 58, 847), Taiwan (up 8 percent to 27,876), Mexico (up 7 percent to 13,931), Nepal (up 25 percent to 6,061 students), and Vietnam (up 25 percent with 4,597 students).

The most popular fields of study for international students were business and management (18 percent of total), engineering (16.5 percent) and mathematics and computer sciences (9 percent).

“It is gratifying to see evidence that international students are returning to U.S. colleges and universities in larger numbers than in previous years,” said David Ward, president of American Council on Education. “This comes in no small measure because of outreach efforts undertaken by our institutions and has been enhanced by cooperation on the part of the Departments of State and Homeland Security in working with our campuses.”

However, the higher education associations also said more needs to be done to continue to attract the best international students in the future.

“While the latest numbers are cause for optimism that the troubling declines of the last several years may be headed toward a recovery, the United States has a lot of work to do to restore its competitiveness for international students and scholars,” said Marlene M. Johnson, CEO and executive director of NAFSA: Association of International Educators. “That competition has substantial implications for its future economic vitality, security, and global leadership.”

According to “Open Doors 2006,” the number of students from the Middle East continued to decline with the exception of Saudi Arabia (up 14 percent to 3,448), due to a new Saudi government program that began to make scholarship awards in Fall 2005.

For the fifth consecutive year, the University of Southern California was the top host institution, with 6,881 international students. Columbia University, Purdue University, New York University and the University of Texas at Austin rounded out the top five destinations for international students.

Eight percent more American students, for a total of 205,983 students, studied abroad  – an increase buoyed in part by growing interest in destinations in Asia and South America, said the report.

However, according to a joint online survey conducted by eight higher education associations, international student enrollments declined at 20 percent of schools. Of those institutions, 53 percent indicated declines at the undergraduate level, while 30 percent reported more graduate level declines, and 17 percent reported graduate and undergraduate levels declines were about the same.

Those institutions cited the cumbersome visa application process and concerns over delays and denials; cost of tuition and fees at U.S. institutions; and students’ decisions to enroll in another country’s institutions.

Fifty-eight percent (525) of all responding institutions have taken special steps to ensure that the number of international students on their campuses does not decline. These steps included new international programs or collaborations, new staff or additional staff time devoted to international recruitment, new funding for international recruitment trips concentrated mainly on Asia, and new funding for marketing and promotion of programs.

Robert Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities, said that U.S. institutions are still below pre-2001 enrollment levels due to delays in visa processing, competition from other host countries, and increased educational opportunities for students in their home countries.

“To overcome these challenges, the federal government must continue to work to improve the visa process and reduce other barriers encountered by international students, and U.S. universities must continue to recruit the best and brightest students from around the world,” he said.

The complete report is available at

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