Washington, DC–The number of international students in the United States set an all-time high in the 2018/19 academic year, the fourth consecutive year with more than one million international students. The total number of international students, 1,095,299, is a 0.05 percent increase over last year, according to the 2019 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange.
International students make up 5.5 percent of the total U.S. higher education population. According to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, international students contributed $44.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018, an increase of 5.5 percent from the previous year.
Open Doors 2019, released today by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, highlights the continued competitiveness of the U.S. higher education sector as a destination of choice for international students and the growing interest in international educational exchange among U.S. students.
For the tenth consecutive year, China remained the largest source of international students in the United States in 2018/19 with 369,548 students in undergraduate, graduate, non-degree, and optional practical training (OPT) programs, a 1.7 percent increase from 2017/18. India (202,014, +2.9 percent), South Korea (52,250, -4.2 percent), Saudi Arabia (37,080, -16.5 percent), and Canada (26,122, +0.8 percent) round out the top five. Emerging market countries showed some of the strongest growth year over year, especially Bangladesh (+10.0 percent), Brazil (+9.8 percent), Nigeria (+5.8 percent), and Pakistan (+5.6 percent).
51.6 percent of international students in the United States pursued STEM fields in 2018/19 and the number of international students in Math and Computer Science programs grew by 9.4 percent, surpassing Business and Management to become the second-largest field of study for international students. Engineering remained the largest academic field for international students in 2018/19, with 21.1 percent of all international students. The number of students enrolling for the first time at a U.S. institution in 2018/19 declined by 0.9 percent, recovering from sharper declines the year before. The leveling of declines in newly enrolled international students continues into the 2019/20 academic year, according to data from the 2019 Fall International Student Enrollment Snapshot Survey, a survey conducted by IIE and nine partner higher education associations. Around 500 institutions participate in this survey, a subset of the more than 2,800 institutions surveyed for Open Doors.
Policy changes that allow STEM students to remain in the United States on Optional Practical Training opportunities for 36 months after the completion of their studies likely continues to drive the increase in students on OPT programs, which increased by 9.6 percent to 223,085. The number of students in non-degree programs declined by 5.0 percent to 62,341. The total number of international students enrolled in undergraduate programs declined by 2.4 percent to 431,930, and the number in graduate programs declined by 1.3 percent to 377,943.
In the 2017/18 academic year, 341,751 U.S. students participated in study abroad programs for academic credit, a 2.7 percent increase over the previous year. European countries remain the most popular destinations for U.S. study abroad students; 54.9 percent of study abroad students went to Europe in 2017/18. The United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, and Germany hosted the most U.S. study abroad students. The number of U.S. study abroad students in Japan grew by 12.4 percent from the previous year, and Greece (+20.0 percent), the Netherlands (+15.4 percent), Israel (+11.9 percent) and Argentina (+11.2 percent) also saw double-digit gains. The number of study abroad students in Latin America and the Caribbean fell by 1.4 percent, due to a sharp decline in study abroad to Cuba. Excluding Cuba, the number of study abroad students in this region grew by 3.1 percent.
An increasing number of STEM students are studying abroad, representing 25.6 percent of the total. The population of study abroad students has also continued to become more diverse; 30.0 percent of study abroad students in 2017/18 identified as a member of a racial or ethnic minority group, compared to 23.7 percent in 2012/13 and 18.2 percent in 2007/08. This represents an increase in access to study abroad opportunities for underserved populations of students in higher education, but it still trails the diversity of the U.S. higher education community as a whole.