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Fastest Growth in US International Students in 40 Years

The Open Doors 2023 Report on International Educational Exchange shows that the US hosted more than one million (1,057,188) international students during the 2022/23 academic year, a 12% increase compared to the previous academic year. It is the fastest growth rate in more than 40 years.

Released by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Institute of International Education (IIE), the report provides a critical annual benchmark on the state of international educational exchange and student mobility. International students accounted for 6% of the total US higher education population that year and contributed nearly $38 billion to the US economy, according to the US Department of Commerce.

Assistant US secretary of state Lee Satterfield said: “Students from around the world have chosen the United States as the top destination for international study. International education is a vehicle that promotes peace and cross-cultural connections and provides the tools necessary to address the shared challenges of our time. It continues to shape the leaders of the future, both here at home and abroad, and we look forward to doing even more to attract international students to the United States and serve as the global leader in international education.”

The growth is in line with figures released in June showing that the number of overseas students on intensive English programs (IEPs) grew by 63% to reach near pre-pandemic levels.

Soaring beyond pre-pandemic levels to nearly record highs, the number of international students who enrolled for the first time at a US college or university during the 2022/23 academic year increased by 14% year-over-year to 298,523, building on the 80% increase in the prior year, and 48 states reported an increase in international students.

“Over one million international students studying in the US reflects a strong rebound, with the number approaching pre-pandemic levels. This reinforces that the US remains the destination of choice for international students wishing to study abroad, as it has been for more than a century,” said Allan E. Goodman, IIE CEO. “The Open Doors 2023 Report emphasizes that international education is resilient and also integral to universities and countries looking to support global innovation, collaboration, and peace.”

For the first time since 2014/15, international student enrollment across all academic levels increased in 2022/23. Graduate student enrollment increased the most, with 467,027 international students pursuing master’s, doctorate, or professional degrees (+21% year-over-year). Undergraduate student enrollment grew (+1% year-over-year) for the first time in five years.

In addition to enrolled international students, 198,793 students pursued optional practical training (OPT), which supports students to gain practical work experiences after they complete their academic studies.

China remained the top-sending country in 2022/23, with 289,526 students studying in the US (-0.2% year-over-year). India, the second-largest sending country, reached an all-time high of 268,923 international students in 2022/23, an increase of 35% year-over-year.

Most places of origin (23 of the top 25) increased their total numbers of international students in the US in 2022/23. In addition, eight places of origin, including Bangladesh, Colombia, Ghana, India, Italy, Nepal, Pakistan, and Spain, reached all-time highs in international student numbers.

Sub-Saharan Africa had the highest regional growth (+18% year-over-year), and Ghana entered the top 25 places of origin for the first time with 6,468 international students. Students studied in the US from over 200 places of origin.

US Study Abroad Bounced Back Even during Pandemic
The report shows that during the 2021/2022 academic year, US study abroad rebounded to more than half of pre-pandemic levels, with 188,753 students pursuing opportunities abroad for academic credit. The US study abroad total reflects the 2021/22 academic year when travel and study abroad programming were still affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the fall and winter. The rebound signals a critical turning point in students’ ability to pursue in-person experiences abroad safely.

“International education, both here at home and abroad, is the ultimate unifier— there is something for everyone. American students from two-year community colleges to four-year universities and beyond, across a wide range of fields, can study abroad all over the world and bring new perspectives back to their communities,” said Satterfield, who noted her college-aged son studied abroad during the spring semester of 2023.

During the 2021/2022 academic year, nearly half of all students studied abroad in the summer (49%), and the leading destinations continued to be Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, and France. There are positive signs of further growth, as IIE’s 2023 Spring Snapshot survey reported that 83% of US institutions expected study abroad totals to increase in 2022/23 and beyond.

Fall 2023 Snapshot
The Fall 2023 Snapshot on International Student Enrollment shows continued momentum for international student mobility in the US. Higher education institutions reported an 8% increase in international students in fall 2023, with growth across all academic levels and OPT. For all places of origin, India continues to be the highest priority for undergraduate and graduate recruitment. Seventy percent of US institutions are prioritizing undergraduate outreach and 80% of US institutions are prioritizing graduate outreach for students in India. Over 630 US higher education institutions participated in the Fall 2023 Snapshot survey.

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