WASHINGTON — When Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared this “International Education Week,” he waxed eloquent about the “era of global exchange” – American students heading abroad in increasing numbers, while foreign students flood Texas universities, returning home “with a greater understanding of the values we hold dear.”
He might also have noted that the nearly 60,000 foreign students studying in Texas, constitute a critical economic boost for the state, particularly in lean times – paying professors’ salaries, buying books, furnishing dorm rooms, clothing themselves, and eating.
An all-time high of 671,616 foreign students studied in US colleges and universities in the 2008-09 academic year, according to the annual Open Doors report by the Institute of International Education (IIE). All told, those students spent nearly $18 billion across the United States, according to a separate report also issued today by NAFSA, a nonprofit association promoting international education.
Together, the two reports paint a picture of a world of increasingly globalized education: Foreigners prize an American college education more and more every year, and American students consider some amount of study abroad a requisite part of their education.
Among the reports’ highlights:
- China was largely responsible for the year’s 8 percent growth in foreign students in the US, sending nearly one-quarter more students than last academic year – or about 98,000. But unlike in the past, more of those Chinese students are undergraduates – not graduate students – as wealthy Chinese families pay for the international gold standard in education for their one child.
- Four countries increased their number of America-bound students by 20 percent or more: China, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. Vietnam vaulted into the Top 10 with nearly 13,000 students in the US – a 46 percent jump over the previous year.
- Americans studying abroad rose by nearly 9 percent to 262,416. But more of those students are looking outside the semester-abroad destinations of their parents – often in Western Europe – for Asian studies in China, India and Japan. South Africa and Argentina are also drawing growing numbers of Americans.
The State Department is providing more Americans with scholarships to study in countries where critical languages such as Arabic, Hindi, and Urdu are spoken – an effort to remedy a recent dearth of foreign-service applicants with those skills.
The State Department is also playing a role in the effort to attract foreign students to the US. It has established a network of offices around the globe where students can research US educational opportunities. There, foreign students can get answers to questions such as the differences between large universities and the typically American small liberal-arts college.
“Our large network of more than 400 EducationUSA advising centers plays a key role in matching international students with a US academic institution that’s just right for them,” says Judith McHale, undersecretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs.
The top three states in terms of enrolled foreign students – California, New York and Texas – remained the same. But the number of governors issuing “international education week” proclamations like Governor Perry’s — 31, according to NAFSA – suggests more states are taking note of both the qualitative and economic benefits of attracting foreign students.