Number of Foreign Students in the U.S. Hit New High Last Year


President Obama is in China this week as part of his four-stop trip to Asia, having visited Japan and Singapore earlier this month, he arrived in Shanghai yesterday and will fly to Beijing later today. In a town-hall style meeting where the president spoke to college students in Shanghai–most were hand picked by the officials of the Chinese government–he praised their country for its spectacular rise in the global economy and said the United States welcomes their success. China experienced a sharp slowdown last year and early this year, but is now in the midst of another growth spurt. According to expert forecasters, the country’s economy is likely to grow by about 8 percent, by far the best performing major economy, accounting for much of the world’s economic growth this year. They are expected to surpass Germany as the world’s biggest exporter, and hit a trade surplus in excess of $200 billion.

One result of their country’s economic growth is an influx of Chinese students enrolling in U.S. colleges and universities, as the Chronicle of Higher Education article below reports. More Chinese families can afford to ramp up their children’s educational pursuits and many want to send them to the U. S. for higher education. According to new data from the Institute of International Education in its “Open Doors” report, “Some 671,616 international students attended U.S. institutions in 2008-9, an increase of almost 8 percent from a year earlier. First-time-student enrollments grew even more robustly, by nearly 16 percent.”

However, the news isn’t all good. “Everything has to be set against the economic crisis we’re mired in,” says Ken Curtis, assistant vice president for international education and global engagement at California State University at Long Beach. For example, a survey this fall of 700 institutions shows the downside: While half of the institutions reported foreign-student enrollment increases this year over last, a quarter experienced declines. A second recent survey, by the Council of Graduate Schools, found that growth in the number of first-time international students in American graduate schools was flat. Enrollments from India and South Korea, two of the three largest sources of foreign students, declined. “The question,” says Debra W. Stewart, the council’s president, “is the extent to which we can continue to rely on international students to feed our graduate schools.” Another issue is the decline in graduate enrollments. Both the Open Doors data and the council’s report suggest a shift in the makeup of the international student body in the U.S. The article reports: “If current enrollment trends hold, the number of foreign undergraduates, which includes students studying for associate or bachelor’s degrees, is poised to surpass the number of those pursuing graduate degrees.”

One reason for the declines in foreign-student enrollment is that students are looking elsewhere because the job outlook is bad here. “The U.S. was looked at as a land of opportunities. It was seen as a utopia for good students who were confident they would get jobs,” says Bindu Chopra, head of the Bangalore office of N&N Chopra Consultants, which advises students on studying overseas. “When they see that they are unlikely to get jobs, they’d rather not take loans and spend so much and go for a graduate degree.” Victor C. Johnson, senior adviser for public policy at Nafsa: Association of International Educators, says the recent slowdown points to the need for a national strategy for international-student recruitment. “We don’t want to wake up one day and find out that, because we have not adopted a national policy, we’re no longer competitive,” Mr. Johnson says. “We need to respond before it’s too late to do something.”

A big benefit to U.S. students is for students whose families can’t afford to send them abroad or who may have other reservations about foreign travel, an influx of international students means the world is coming to them. U. S. students need to become more globally minded and see their gifts and talents in the context of our global world. LifeBound’s book, Junior Guide to Senior Year Success: Becoming a Global Citizen, sets a new standard for getting ready for college by helping students think more broadly about their education in the global economy and how this impacts their future career. Study abroad and other programs are explored in the text, and students are exposed to real-life stories about “globe savers,” featuring people around the globe who are tackling some of our world’s biggest problems. For a review copy, please call the LifeBound office toll free 1.877.737.8510 or email us at

How can we help our U.S. students make the most of this opportunity to form relationships with students from other countries and become a global citizen?

How can we successfully balance and leverage integrating a high number of Chinese students on U.S. campuses while maintaining our recruiting numbers at the graduate level? What might be the alternatives to this prescribed method?

As this articles raises, how can we help ensure that Chinese students in the U.S. don’t cloister together rather than branching out while they’re here and forming relationships with their global counterparts?

November 16, 2009
By Karin Fischer
The number of foreign students attending American colleges hit an all-time high in 2008, capping three consecutive years of vigorous growth, according to new data from the Institute of International Education.
Some 671,616 international students attended U.S. institutions in 2008-9, an increase of almost 8 percent from a year earlier. First-time-student enrollments grew even more robustly, by nearly 16 percent.

But the rosy data highlighted in the annual “Open Doors” report may obscure some potentially worrisome trends. Though graduate programs typically rely more on international students, enrollment grew far more strongly at the undergraduate level, where the number of students jumped 11 percent, than at the graduate level, where enrollments climbed a little more than 2 percent. What’s more, the increase in students pursuing undergraduate studies was largely dependent on enrollment from China, which shot up by 60 percent.

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