Press Release

US Sees Slowing Decline in International Student Enrollment in 2004/05

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Open Doors 2005: International Students in the United States

Deborah Gardner

Data Tables for Open Doors 2005 International Students: Click here >>



More Than 565,000 International Students Enrolled In U.S. Institutions of Higher Education

India Remains the Leading Sending Country
China, Korea and Japan Also Show Slight Increases
USC Remains Top Host University

WASHINGTON D.C., November 14, 2005 -- In 2004/05, the number of international students enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions remained fairly steady at 565,039, off about 1% from the previous year's totals, according to Open Doors 2005, the annual report on international academic mobility published by the Institute of International Education (IIE) with support from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. This marked the sixth year in a row that America hosted more than half a million foreign students. This year's numbers indicate a leveling off of enrollments, after last year's decline of 2.4%. Some campuses reported significant increases in enrollments while other campuses reported declines.

A separate on-line survey in which IIE and several other higher education associations polled colleges and universities regarding Fall 2005 enrollments found more respondents reporting increases in newly enrolled students this Fall than reporting drops. (see for details.)

"The United States remains the best place in the world to pursue higher education and we continue to assure international students that they are welcome in our country," said Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Dina Habib Powell. "The sharp growth of enrollments in non-degree programs reflects the diversity and flexibility of the U.S. higher education system, which can respond quickly to the changing needs of students."

According to Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO of the Institute of International Education, "Colleges and universities have been proactive in reaching out to international students to let them know that they are welcome here. Strong recruitment, combined with more efficient and transparent student visa processes, have begun to stem the tide of decreasing international student enrollment. We need to continue these concerted efforts to get the word out that our doors are open to international students, in order to attract the best and the brightest students from all over the world."

The slight overall decline in international students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities has been attributed to several factors, including real and perceived difficulties in obtaining student visas (especially in scientific and technical fields), rising U.S. tuition costs, vigorous recruitment activities by other English-speaking nations, and perceptions abroad that it is more difficult for international students to come to the United States. In addition, universities in students' home countries and other regional host countries have been increasing their capacity to provide a high quality education to a greater number of students, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

For the fourth year in a row, the University of Southern California, with 6,846 international students in 2004/05, was the U.S. university with the largest number of international students, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ranks second this year, moving up from sixth place, followed by University of Texas at Austin, Columbia University and New York University. (See for the lists of the top host institutions by Carnegie type.)

Open Doors 2005 reports a wide variation in the patterns of enrollment from different places of origin. All of the five leading sending countries experienced increases in enrollment in 2004/05, and these five countries account for almost half (47%) of all international students in the United States. India remains the largest sending country for the 4th consecutive year with a total of 80,466 students, a modest 1% increase over the previous year's enrollments. This rate of growth is considerably slower than the double-digit increases experienced over the past three years (12% in 2003/04, 23% in 2002/03, and 29% in 2001/02). China, the second-largest sending country with 62,523 students, had a 1% increase in enrollment, after experiencing a decline of 5% the previous year. The Republic of Korea, which remained the third leading sender for the fourth year in a row, was up by 2% to 53,358. Japan, the fourth leading sender with 42,215 students in the U.S., experienced an increase in enrollment of 3%, reversing a trend in declining enrollments that began three years ago. Enrollments of students from Canada, the only non-Asian country in the top five, increased by 4% to 28,140.

Students from Taiwan (#6 with 25,914) and Mexico (#7 with 13,063) declined by 1% and 2% respectively, while Turkey (#8 with 12,474) experienced the highest rate of growth among the top senders, with an increase of 9%. Despite a decrease of 1% to 8,640, Germany rose in position from #11 last year to #9 in 2004/05, due to larger decreases in students from Thailand and Indonesia. Thailand (#10 with 8,637 students) decreased by 3%. Of the top twenty sending countries, the sharpest decreases were reported from Indonesia (down 13% to 7,760), Kenya (down 9% to 6,728), Pakistan (down 14% to 6,296) and Malaysia (down 5% to 6,142).

Open Doors 2005 reports that Asia, which continues to be the largest sending region by a wide margin, showed a slight increase in enrollments, with the number of students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities growing by 0.3% to 325,112 students, or 58% of the total international enrollment. There were declines in the numbers of students from Europe (down 3% to 71,609), the Middle East (down 2% to 31,248), Africa (down 5% to 36,123), and Latin America (down 3% to 67,818). However, these declines were partially offset by increases in student enrollments from North America (up 4% to 28,634). Enrollments of students from South America (34,693) as well as Central America and Mexico (19,227) were nearly unchanged from the previous year.

The total number of students from the Middle East continued to decline, although at a much-reduced rate (down 2%, as compared to a 9% decline in the previous year). This year's total of 31,248 students from the region reflects a continued steep decline in students from Saudi Arabia (down 14% to 3,035, after a decline of 16% the previous year.) Many of the other countries showed much less steep declines than in the previous year. The number of students from the United Arab Emirates was down 7% to 1,158 (compared to a 30% decline the previous year), Lebanon (down 6% to 2,040 after a decline of 8% the previous year), Kuwait (down 7% to 1,720, after a 17% decline the previous year), and Jordan (down 5% to 1,754, after a 15% decline the previous year). Students from Israel, the second leading sender of students from the region, decreased by 4% to 3,323, after a slight decline (of about 1%) the previous year. These declines were partially offset by a significant increase from Turkey (up 9% to 12,474), the largest sender of students to the U.S. from that world region. Other large percentage increases from this world region, based on small numbers of students sent in past years, include Iraq (up 18% to 142) and the Palestinian Authority (up 9% to 268).

International students brought $13.3 billion dollars to the U.S. economy last year in money spent on tuition, living expenses, and related costs, according to the NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Open Doors 2004/05 data from campuses indicate that nearly 72% of all international students reported their primary source of funding coming from personal and family sources or other sources outside of the United States. The proportion of students relying primarily on personal and family funding increased by 1.5%, to 67% of all international students in 2004/05, and an even higher percentage at the undergraduate level (81%). Rising tuition costs and weak economies in some countries abroad place a substantial economic burden on students and their families, making less expensive study opportunities at home and elsewhere a more attractive option, especially at the undergraduate level. Nevertheless, Department of Commerce data continues to rank U.S. higher education as among the five largest service sector exports.

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Highlights from Open Doors 2005:

Note: Additional highlights are available on IIE's website at

India is the leading place of origin for international students with 80,466 students in the U.S. in 2004/05 (an increase of 1% from the previous year), followed by #2 China (62,523, up 1%), #3 Korea (53,358, up 2%), #4 Japan (42,215, up 3%), #5 Canada (28,140, up 4%), #6 Taiwan (25,914, down 1%), #7 Mexico (13,063, down 2%), #8 Turkey (12,474, up 9%), #9 Germany (8,640, down 1%), #10 Thailand (8,637, down 3%), #11 United Kingdom (8,236, down 2%), #12 Indonesia (7,760, down 13%), #13 Colombia (7,334, down 3%), #14 Brazil (7,244, down 7%), #15 Hong Kong, China (7,180, down 2%), #16 Kenya (6,728, down 9%), #17 France (6,555, down 4%), #18 Nigeria (6,335, up 3%), #19 Pakistan (6,296, down 14%), #20 Malaysia (6,142, down 5%).

University of Southern California hosts the largest number of international students. For the fourth consecutive year, the University of Southern California was the leading host institution (6,846). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign hosted the second highest number of foreign students (5,560). Other campuses hosting the most foreign students were: University of Texas at Austin (5,333), Columbia University (5,278) New York University (5,140), Purdue University (4,921) University of Michigan - Ann Arbor (4,632), Boston University (4,541), UCLA (4,217), and Ohio State University (4,140). In 2004/05, 145 U.S. colleges and universities hosted 1,000 or more international students - with 28 of these campuses hosting more than 3,000 international students each. More than 25% of the foreign students in the United States in 2004/05 were hosted by just 40 universities with the largest number of foreign students.

California is the leading host state for international students (75,032, down 3%), followed by New York (61,944, down 2%), Texas (47,367, up 5%), Massachusetts (27,985, down 2%) and Florida (26,264, up 2%). Of the top 20 leading hosting states, six states saw increases in foreign enrollments: Florida and Texas (as above), Maryland (13,439, up 6%), Georgia (12,111, up 1%), Arizona (10,011, up 1%), and North Carolina (9,029, up 2%), while 14 reported declines.

The most popular fields of study for international students in the U.S. are Business and Management (18% of total), Engineering (16.5%) and Mathematics and Computer Sciences (9%), although this year all three leading fields reported a decline in enrollments compared to last year, down 8%, 2% and 25%, respectively. Fields experiencing growth include the Physical and Life Sciences (up 11%), the Health Professions (up 2%), Intensive English Language (up 8%) and Agriculture (up 3%).

Diverse impact according to institutional type: In 2004/05, the only institutional type that showed a decline in the number of international students enrolled was the doctoral degree-granting and research universities category, which reported a decrease of 6%. Because these large universities host over half of all the foreign students in the United States, this decrease was significant enough to create a slight decline in the total number of international students. However, this was partially offset by increases reported by other types of institutions (Master's, Baccalaureate, Associates and Specialized institutions). Many institutions reported declines in degree-seeking students, offset by increases in other categories, including non-degree studies, practical training, and intensive English language studies.

Funds from home: International students contribute approximately $13.3 billion dollars to the U.S. economy, through their expenditure on tuition and living expenses. Department of Commerce data describe U.S higher education as the country's fifth largest service sector export, as these students bring money into the national economy and provide revenue to their host states for living expenses, including room/board, books and supplies, transportation, health insurance, support for accompanying family members, and other miscellaneous items. 67% of all international students receive the majority of their funds from family and personal sources, and, when other sources of funding from their home countries, including assistance from their home country governments or universities, are added in, a total of nearly 72% of all international student funding comes from sources outside of the United States.

Large Universities Report 8% Increase in Foreign Scholars: Findings of a separate Open Doors annual survey of approximately 350 of the largest doctoral degree-granting institutions indicate that the number of international scholars on these large US campuses has increased by 8% to a total of 89,634 scholars. Scholars from China, the leading place of origin, represented almost 20% of all foreign scholars in the U.S., with 17,035 scholars. The next largest place of origin, Korea, with 8,301, represented just under 10% of all scholars. The leading places of origin all increased, except for Japan which was flat: China (up 15%), Korea (up 14%), India (up 14 %), Japan (flat), Germany (up 2%), Canada (up 3%), United Kingdom (up 2%), France (up 8%); Italy (up 11%); Russia (up 1%). International scholars are defined as non-immigrant, non-student academics (teachers or researchers in the U.S. on temporary visas).

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The Open Doors report is published by the Institute of International Education, the leading not-for-profit educational and cultural exchange organization in the United States. IIE has conducted the annual statistical survey of the international students in the United States since 1949, and with support from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs since the early 1970s. The census is based on a survey of over 2,700 accredited U.S. institutions. Open Doors also reports on international scholars at U.S. universities and international students enrolled in pre-academic Intensive English Programs, as well as U.S. students studying abroad, based on separate surveys. A full press kit and further details on the Open Doors 2005 surveys and their findings can be accessed on, and the full 100 page report can be ordered for $49.95 from IIE Books at

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State manages a wide range of academic, professional, and cultural exchanges that include approximately 30,000 participants annually, with the goal of increasing mutual understanding and respect between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. For more information, visit

Open Doors 2005 International Student Data Tables: Click here >>

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