Press Release

Fall 2008 Online Survey of U.S. Colleges and Universities Suggests Continued Growth in International Student Enrollments this Year

WASHINGTON D.C., November 17, 2008 -- According to an annual survey conducted jointly by eight leading higher education associations, both new enrollments of international students in Fall 2008 and total international student enrollment increased at more than half of the 778 United States campuses that responded. The survey was conducted online in October 2008 to provide a timely "snapshot" of what U.S. colleges and universities are experiencing with regard to international student enrollment for the current semester. In addition to reporting increases or decreases, educators are also asked to provide comments as to their perception of the reasons for these changes and steps they are taking to attract and retain international students.

This joint Fall "snapshot" survey is separate from the annual Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange produced by the Institute of International Education with support from the U.S. Department of State. Open Doors provides comprehensive statistics and analysis based on detailed data collected throughout the previous year from more than 3,000 U.S. campuses, and the international student figures reported in Open Doors 2008 are for academic year 2007/08. The Fall survey is an effort by the U.S. higher education community to provide a complementary forward-looking, top-line view of international student enrollment trends and to provide some campus perceptions as context.

In the current online survey, 57% of respondents reported that they experienced an increase in overall international student enrollments for Fall 2008, while 16% reported a decline, and 27% reported level enrollments. Regarding new enrollments for Fall 2008, which can serve as a possible indicator of future trends, 56% (or 432) of responding member campuses reported that they saw an increase. Only 19% (145) of the responding institutions experienced declines, and 25% (191) report that they had about the same level of new enrollments that they had last year.

These Fall 2008 online survey findings, while not comprehensive, build on last year's survey results which suggested solid growth in new and overall international student enrollments, and indicate that enrollments are likely to grow even further. Among responding institutions with the largest foreign enrollments - 98 U.S. campuses that each host more than 1,000 international students - over three-quarters (78%) of the respondents reported increases in new enrollments, while only 8% reported declines.

The major reasons for the reported increases appear to be largely related to the growing reputation and visibility of U.S. campuses abroad (cited by 34% of responding institutions), more active recruitment efforts (32%), and a weak U.S. dollar that made U.S. tuition costs more attractive to international students. The responding institutions that experienced declines in international student enrollments cited the visa application process and concerns over delays/denials (cited by 18%) and the cost of tuition/fees at U.S. institutions (13%) as major reasons for declines at their institutions.

Campus responses varied depending on their institutional type. Among Doctoral/Research institutions responding, many more (67%) reported increases than reported declines (13%) in their total number of international students for Fall 2008, and 57% of the Master's institutions reported increases, while 22% reported declines. Forty eight percent of Baccalaureate institutions responding reported increases, with 21% reporting declines, and 51% of the responding two-year colleges reported increases in total international student enrollments, while 26% reported declines. Increases and declines include "slight", "some" and "substantial". Responding campuses were not asked to provide actual numbers of students, therefore it is not possible to determine the degree of the overall declines or increases.

The survey was carried out by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in cooperation with American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), American Council on Education (ACE), Association of American Universities (AAU), Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), NAFSA: Association of International Educators, and National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC).

A total of 778 institutions responded to the survey, including 208 Doctoral/Research institutions, 169 Master's institutions, 152 Baccalaureate colleges, 208 two-year colleges, 21 Professional/Specialized institutions, and 19 other institutions. Included among these respondents were 98 institutions that enroll more than 1,000 international students. The responses from these 98 largest host institutions are also reported out in a separate analysis to compare with the trends at the leading host institutions nationally.

The Fall 2008 survey asked educators to indicate whether they had seen a change in new enrollments from selected major sending countries. The results indicate that new enrollments from most of these countries seem to be increasing, with respondents reporting more increases than declines. More institutions reported increases than declines in the number of students from China (55% reporting increases vs. 11% reporting declines, and the rest reporting level enrollments), Korea (39% reporting increases vs. 16% reporting declines), and India (37% reporting increases vs. 19% reporting declines). Also, more institutions are reporting increases for the Middle East as a region (26% reporting increases vs. 12% reporting declines). Survey respondents were asked to separately comment on enrollments from Saudi Arabia and 26% reported increases vs. 14% reporting declines. This is consistent with a new Saudi government program that began to make scholarship awards for their students to study abroad beginning in Fall 2005. However, for the third year in a row more institutions reported declines than increases in the number of students from Japan (30% reporting a decline vs. 19% reporting an increase).

Fifty-seven percent (438) of all responding institutions have taken special steps to ensure that the number of international students on their campuses does not decline. These steps included new staff or additional staff time devoted to international recruitment (cited by 29%), followed by new international programs or collaborations (28%), new funding for international recruitment trips (23%), and new funding for marketing and promotion of programs (21%). Institutions that have devoted more resources for international student recruitment trips seem to have concentrated mainly on Asia, with China, Korea, and India as most popular recruitment destinations. The institutions that did not take special steps mainly cited a lack of funding or resources (23%) and the fact that international student enrollments are stable or growing (16%).

The full survey results are available for download at:

Leaders of the associations commented on the survey findings, noting the continued growth in the number of international students enrolled at U.S. institutions, while also urging campuses and the U.S government to continue working hard to sustain these renewed flows of international students.

According to Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO of the Institute of International Education, "the strong growth in international student enrollments confirms that U.S. higher education, known for the high quality and diversity of its institutions, continues to remain the academic destination of choice for students from all over the world. The steady increases also reflect the U.S. government's actions and those of U.S. colleges and universities to ensure that international students know they are welcome here. These actions include expanded U.S. government support for EducationUSA advising centers around the world to provide students and families with information about the broad range of educational opportunities offered by U.S. higher education, and specific outreach efforts by individual campuses to attract and retain the best and the brightest students worldwide."

According to George R. Boggs, President and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, "as they are playing an increasingly important role in our own country, community colleges continue to expand their service to international students. This new report underscores the growing interest in community colleges as a uniquely effective model around the globe. Ensuring that the number of international students who have access to the benefits of community colleges continues to grow is a priority for the American Association of Community Colleges.

"The growth in international student enrollments comes as very good news," said Constantine W. Curris, President of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. AASCU members have taken two steps that have resulted in improved enrollments at their institutions: they have raised their visibility abroad and they are devoting more resources and improving infrastructures to support international students on their campuses. AASCU remains committed to working with our members to enhance their international education efforts."

"The growing number of international students coming to our campuses is encouraging news," said ACE President Molly Corbett Broad. "Higher education institutions have worked tirelessly to overcome the misperception that international students are not welcome. More and more campuses are strengthening their internationalization efforts with targeted outreach and an increased presence abroad. The results of this survey suggest those efforts are paying off."

“We are pleased that both new and total enrollments of international students continue to increase at our nation’s doctoral and research institutions as well as other U.S. campuses,” said Robert M. Berdahl, President of the Association of American Universities. “The proactive steps taken by most institutions to attract international students—devoting more time to international recruitment, forging new international programs and collaborations, and marketing and promoting programs—are important contributors to the continued increase, and they need to continue. If our nation is to remain a world leader, we—the Administration, Congress, and America’s universities and colleges—must continue to encourage the entry of the brightest and most qualified international students to participate fully in the U.S. higher education and research enterprises. Moreover, we need to create clear pathways to permanent residency and U.S. citizenship for talented international students who earn U.S. academic degrees.”

"The continued growth in international student enrollments is very encouraging," said Marlene M. Johnson, Executive Director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators. "Today we have a new opportunity to rise to the challenge of a robust and growing international education marketplace where competition is strong and student choice is greater than ever. We look forward to working with President-elect Obama and the new Congress on a proactive effort to leverage the contributions of international education for our country's economic competitiveness, global leadership and security."

"I am very encouraged by the increase in enrollments of international students on U.S. campuses," said Peter McPherson, President of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. "I believe that U.S. higher education institutions remain the destination of choice for the best and brightest from around the world, and we will see these numbers increase as our institutions continue to develop new outreach and marketing tools, and as more U.S. students study abroad and serve as Ambassadors of their campus and their country. NASULGC will continue to do everything we can to increase the flow of international students to U.S. colleges and universities."

# # # # #


Judith Irwin, American Association of Community Colleges
(202) 728-0200 x233

Susan Chilcott, American Association of State Colleges and Universities
(202) 293-7070

Tim McDonough, American Council on Education
(202) 939-9365

Barry Toiv, Association of American Universities
(202) 408-7500

Stuart Heiser, Council of Graduate Schools
(202) 223-3791

Ursula Oaks, NAFSA: Association of International Educators
(202) 495-2553

Paul Hassen, National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges
(202) 478-6073


Media Contact

Sharon Witherell
Director, Public Affairs
Tel: +1 212.984.5380

Shana Childs
Public Affairs
Tel: +1 212.984.5360

IIE Experts

IIE experts on international education are available for interviews or speaking engagements.

Dr. Allan E. Goodman
President and CEO

Peggy Blumenthal 
Senior Counselor to the President