More U.S. undergrads go abroad, fewer foreign students study in U.S.
While the number of U.S. students studying abroad has increased since 9/11, the number of international students studying in the United States has significantly decreased due to factors that include difficulties in obtaining student visas and perceptions of American distrust of foreigners, according to a study released by the Institute of International Education.
The number of international students studying in the United States decreased to a level unmatched since the 1970s, according to the 2004 Open Doors Report, which was released last month and funded by the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
According to the study's findings, about 174,649 U.S. college students received credit for study abroad in the 2002-2003 academic year - an increase of 8.5 percent compared to a 4.4 percent increase the year before.
More U.S. students abroad
"These increasing numbers show that American students are continuing to reach out to the rest of the world, to experience other cultures firsthand, and to become more engaged in international affairs," said Institute of International Education President Allan Goodman. "Graduating students with a global vision and global competencies will be key to America's economic success in the 21st century and to its ability to provide global leadership in the challenging times ahead."
The report indicated the rise in U.S. students abroad was in response to the "changing geopolitical climate following 9/11" and the increase of opportunities to study at an institution abroad.
AU Abroad Director Sara Dumont agreed.
"I think there is a greater awareness since 9/11 [and] the numbers have been growing over the last three to four years," she said.
This increase in U.S. students studying abroad comes despite increases in anti-American sentiment.
"There is a higher degree of anti-Americanism in Europe, and especially in the Arab world than I would like, and it's driven by principally two issues: Iraq, and the military -- excuse me, the Middle East peace process," outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell told The Eagle during a college editors briefing in November. "Those are the two issues that drive European public opinion against us, not totally against us, but not as good as it used to be, and Arab public opinion, which has really gone south in the last couple of years."
However, Powell pointed out that these were "principally attitudes against U.S. policies, not necessarily against the U.S." and that he has no reservations about encouraging students to go abroad.
"You will discover that once you get over these topical problems that are causing us such public relations difficulty, there's still a groundswell of respect, affection, and some resentment for America. We're powerful. And when you're powerful, you're respected, and you're also resented," Powell said. "I'm confident that if we can get traction on both Iraq and on the Middle East peace process, these attitudes can be turned around."
Though more U.S. students are studying abroad, they are doing so for shorter time periods, with more than 50 percent of U.S. undergraduates and master's degrees students going abroad in January, during the summer, or for eight-week programs, according to the report.
The increase in short-term semesters abroad is due to financial aid and curriculums of U.S. higher education institutions, according to the study. It also stated that all top-20 host countries experienced an increase in U.S. enrollment except China because of the recent health risks with SARS.
While European countries remain the most popular destination for U.S. students, it was also found that the growth of U.S. enrollments in the 2002-2003 academic year in less traditional destinations increased in Cuba, Brazil, Denmark, Korea, India, Peru and Vietnam. Students studying in the Middle East also declined further from last year's decline of 21 percent to 51 percent with about 648 students.
The top five leading majors for Americans studying abroad in 2002-2003 were social science, business and management, and humanities.
This academic year also marked the first year that the report included Antarctica, as it was a destination of study for 18 students.
Fewer international students in the U.S.
The 572,509 international students that studied in the United States in 2002-2003 declined by 2.4 percent from the previous year - the first absolute decline in foreign enrollments since 1972, the study reported.
The diplomatic consequences of fewer international students studying in the United States are "very serious," Powell said.
"It's not just the education [international students] get here. It's the experience they get here of living in our kind of a system," Powell said. "It doesn't mean they're going to go back and be Jeffersonian Democrats or design a system just like us, but they leave here with far more than an education. They leave here with some sense of values and how democracies can be made to work."
The University of Southern California, with 6,647 international students, had the highest number of international students for the third year in a row. The university increased international student enrollment by 6 percent at the undergraduate and graduate level. Purdue and Columbia universities rounded out the top three.
But the study concluded that while 13 of the 25 leading U.S. host campuses in 2003-2004 increased international student enrollment, the top 24 host campuses experienced a total net decline of 1 percent.
The report also shows that undergraduate enrollments decreased by 5 percent with lower numbers at the top five countries that send students to the United States, including China, India, Japan, Korea and Canada.
Despite sharp decreases in Asian countries, Asia remained the largest sending region, totaling 57 percent of international studies students in the States, with India remaining the largest sending country for the third year with 79,736. Its total went up by 7 percent from the year before but at a slower rate from years past.
Currently, the Department of Commerce ranks U.S. higher education as among the top 10 largest service sector exports. The department concluded that international students brought more than $13 billion dollars to the U.S. economy in money spent on tuition, living expenses and related costs.
About 75 percent of these students reported that their primary source of funding came from personal sources outside of the U.S. and reliance on these sources increased by more than 1 percent to 67 percent this academic year, according to the Department of Commerce. However, families abroad are burdened by rising tuition costs and weak economics in their countries.
There were declines in the numbers of students from Europe and the Middle East that were partially offset by increases in student enrollments from Africa, North America and Latin America, the study found. Nigerian enrollments, for instance, rose for the eighth year bringing it to the list of top 20 sending countries.
Powell said that he recently met with Muslim students and that one of their concerns was about poor treatment at airports and other public places.
"Secretary Ridge and I are working hard on this, to reduce ... what's often seen as profiling and heavy-handedness at our airports, and we've made some changes recently that I think will improve this as well," he said.
However, the number of Middle Eastern students continue to decrease, according to the study, but also account for about 6 percent of all international students enrolled in U.S. higher education.
While the steepest declines were in undergraduate and individual research universities enrollments, the study says this is partially offset by the increase of graduate enrollments of foreign students.
Reasons for decline of foreign student numbers
Fewer international students study in the United States due to a number of reasons including "real" and "perceived" difficulties in obtaining student visas, rising U.S. tuition costs, vigorous recruitment activities by other English-speaking nations and perceptions of U.S. distrust of foreigners, the study said.
"The United States remains the best place in the world to seek the benefits of higher education, and we are working in a concerted way at the Department of State and in related agencies to convince international students that they are welcome here," according to Patricia S. Harrison, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, in a press release. "The temporary decline in student numbers relates to a number of factors, including the need to make sure our borders are secure, but I am confident that both the situation and the numbers will improve."
According to Harrison, student-visa insurances for January through June 2004 increase by 11 percent over the same six-month period in 2003.
"It suggests that international students understand the very real need we had to put in place systems to screen applicants for entry into the United States, systems that provide everyone - including foreign visitors - with a greater sense of security," she said.
Powell also addressed student visa concerns.
"We've made a major effort on speeding up student visas, and if you'll look at the data, the time it takes is going down," he said. However, he warned that the process would "never be as easy or as fast as it used to be."
Dumont also said that difficulties with student visas come into play. In fact, she said that she was speaking with an individual in Australia who said that students from all over the country were required to go to Sydney for a short interview for as much as 45 seconds to one minute in order to receive a visa. It's like flying from California to New York for a one-minute interview, she said.
She also said that there is this negative view of those abroad who believe that the United States dislikes foreigners because of U.S. foreign policy and new visa regulations.
To find out more about the results of the report, visit opendoors.iienetwork.org.