The Most Popular U.S. Colleges for Foreign Students
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The Most Popular U.S. Colleges for Foreign Students

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/Files

U.S. universities are educating more international students than ever — more than 886,000 of them as of the 2013-14 academic year, according to the Open Doors 2014 report released last week by the Institute of International Education. That represents an increase of 8.1 percent over the previous year, and a 72 percent jump since 2000. Undergrad enrollment grew by 9 percent, while the number of graduate students coming to the U.S. rose 6 percent.

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That surge in foreign students has been beneficial for the financial health of schools, as credit analysts at Moody’s Investors Service noted in a new research report. International students account for 4 percent of the 21 million students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities, but they play a more significant financial role since they are far more likely to pay full tuition.

“The healthy international enrollment increase benefits U.S. universities by bolstering net tuition revenue and offsetting softening domestic enrollment,” Moody’s Eva Bogaty wrote. “International students are a strong source of net tuition revenue growth for U.S. universities because they typically receive little or no financial aid and are not subject to tuition limitations imposed by state governments for public universities.”

The U.S. remains the top destination for international students looking to study abroad, though countries such as Australia, Canada and the U.K. have cut into the U.S. lead. Among U.S. states, California remains the most popular destination, followed by New York and Texas, but for the first time in 13 years the University of Southern California wasn’t the most popular school, having been edged out by New York University.

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“Universities with strong science, technology, engineering, math programs and business programs generally attract the most international students,” Bogaty said. “However, our tuition survey found that even liberal arts schools experienced strong gains."


Students from China, India and South Korea account for more than half of the international enrollees at U.S. schools. The number of students from China jumped 16.5 percent in the most recent academic year, while the number from India rose 6.1 percent. South Korean enrollees fell nearly 4 percent.

International Student Origins

Kuwait, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia saw the highest growth in enrollment, thanks in large part to scholarship programs that send students to study in the U.S., but Chinese students now represent nearly a third of international students attending U.S. schools. “There are five times as many Chinese students on U.S. campuses as were reported in Open Doors 2000; almost two and a half times as many Indian students; seven and a half times as many Vietnamese students; and more than ten times as many Saudi students,” the Institute of International Education said in its press release.

A report issued earlier this month by the Council of Graduate Schools found that first-time enrollments of grad students from China fell by 1 percent in 2014, the first such drop since the group began its survey in 2004, and offers of admission to prospective students from China fell by 2 percent. “Due to the fact that graduate students from China outnumber graduate students from any other nation, including India, continuing stagnation and declines in enrollment among students from that country will necessitate increases from many other countries in order to maintain current rates of growth,” the group concluded.

Top Three Int'l Student origins

The report noted that international students do more than diversify university campuses: They contributed more than $27 billion to the U.S. economy in 2013, the Institute of International Education said, citing Department of Commerce data.

Slightly more U.S. students, meanwhile, are also studying abroad, with the number of students who took classes for credit up 2 percent to more than 289,400. The top destinations for U.S. students include the U.K., Italy, Spain, France, and China.

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