The number of international students at U.S. colleges increased last year after a marked drop during the pandemic, according to a survey of thousands of universities released Monday.
For a normal college experience during the pandemic, these students hopped continents
The number of international students increased 4 percent in the 2021-2022 academic year to nearly 1 million students, coming from more than 200 countries, the survey found, a rebound that many higher education officials hoped to see.
But the data also indicated a drop in the number of students from China, the country that for years has sent the most students to the United States.
The Open Doors 2022 Report on International Educational Exchange was released Monday by the Institute of International Education and the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The survey included both enrolled students and those here on optional practical training — temporary work related to their academic field — at some 3,000 colleges and universities in the United States.
A separate, much smaller survey of more than 600 schools this fall offered a more recent snapshot of data, finding an additional 9 percent increase in enrollment by international students.
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The numbers are closely watched for the cultural and economic impact of such exchanges; international students alter the educational experience for U.S. students studying with them. And, according to the Commerce Department, they contributed $32 billion to the U.S. economy in 2021.
In more than a century of data, Allan E. Goodman, chief executive of the Institute of International Education (IIE), said, they have seen that international exchanges occur even during pandemics and grow rapidly afterward.
The increase was welcomed by Lee Satterfield, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs. “We are thrilled to see international student numbers on the rise, and to see the United States maintain its global leadership as the top destination of choice for international students,” Satterfield said in a statement.
Satterfield said that welcoming international students to American campuses “is at the heart of people-to-people diplomacy and a foundational component of our U.S. foreign policy strategy to attract the top talent to the United States.”
More than half of all international students last year came from China or India. China sent the most — nearly a third of the total — but the numbers decreased nearly 9 percent from the 2020-2021 academic year.
At the same time, the number of students from India increased nearly 19 percent, to almost 200,000.
Before 2020, the number of students from China had been increasing since the 2009-2010 academic year, said Mirka Martel, head of research, evaluation and learning for IIE. She said the pandemic and its impact on travel is probably one of the primary reasons Chinese students were unable to travel to the United States or were choosing to defer their studies.
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Speaking to whether geopolitics influenced those numbers as well, Ethan Rosenzweig, deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the State Department, said on a press call that the Biden administration has been very clear that Chinese students are welcome here. Rosenzweig said he is looking forward to China opening its borders to allow U.S. universities to recruit in person there again.
The data has been pretty consistent, independent of relationships or political tensions, Goodman said. “Education operates in a different space. We expect that to continue in respect to China.”
Responding to a question about concerns over the difficulty for Chinese students of getting student visas, Rob Batchelder, managing director for visa services in the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department, said the vast majority of students looking to study in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields in the United States are able to get a visa and travel here without any serious delays or complications.
But the numbers are stark: In 2019-2020, there were more than 370,000 students from China in the United States. Last year, it was closer to 290,000.
Meanwhile, there were dramatic increases in enrollment by students from some Western European countries: almost 60 percent from Germany, more than 41 percent from Spain and about 37 percent from France. Bangladesh, Pakistan, Colombia and Nigeria were also among those countries marking double-digit percentage increases, as well.