India’s growth rate however outpaced China’s, jumping almost 25% to 165,000 students mostly studying STEM subjects. Saudi Arabia has passed South Korea to be the third strongest source country despite growing by only 2% to 61,287 students.
International students now account for 5% of the total student population at US institutions. More than a third of these students studied engineering, math or computer science, and 14% participated in Optional Practical Training, including many in STEM fields.
India’s growth rate however outpaced China’s, jumping almost 25%
“The growth in international STEM students is likely connected to the 25% increase in students from India, more than three quarters of who study in these fields,” said IIE in a statement.
OPT was the fastest growing academic level, increasing by 23%. However undergraduate level students grew 7% and continue to account for the largest volume of international enrolments. Graduate enrolments grew by 6%.
International students contributed more than $35bn to the US economy in 2015, according to the US Department of Commerce — a large increase over the previous year’s total of $31bn.
China, India and Saudi Arabia account for 53% of the total international student population in the US. South Korea, historically a strong source country, continues to decline decreasing by 4% in 2015 sending only 61,000 students.
Among Chinese students, undergraduates grew by almost 9% to 135,000, widening the gap between graduate level students which only grew 2% to 123,000.
A breakdown of the Indian cohort meanwhile shows almost five times as many graduate students than undergraduates are studying in the US. Both academic levels saw double digit growth, 16% and 19% respectively, but graduate level students totalled 101,800, compared to 19,300 undergraduates.
Among Saudi Arabian students, growth remained at the undergraduate level, growing 10% to 34,000 compared to 5% growth at the graduate level to 13,200 students.
“Saudi Arabia’s government-sponsored international scholarship programme helped drive that country to surpass South Korea to become the third largest sender of international students to the United States,” said IIE.
“We owe it to the next generation of Americans to find ways to make it more accessible to a wider range of students”
Brazil recorded the largest decline of all source countries, 18%, to 19,300 students – a fall likely due to the freeze in the Brazilian government’s Scientific Mobility Program.
The number of US students studying abroad also increased, with minor improvements in the diversity of students going overseas. In 2015, 313,000 US students studied abroad, a 3% increase on last year.
Women continue to make up more than two thirds of the study abroad figures, however the proportion of students who identified as racial or ethnic minorities increased from 10 years ago, accounting for 27% of study abroad students compared to 17% in 2004/5.
“The Open Doors findings show that international students value the quality, diversity and strong reputation of US institutions and recognise that these institutions will give them opportunities that can help them not only in their education but also in their careers,” said IIE President Allan Goodman.
Commenting on outbound student numbers, Goodman noted that some 90% of American college students do not study or intern outside of the United States. “We owe it to the next generation of Americans to find ways to make it more accessible to a wider range of students,” he said.
“Some US students studying in STEM fields had found it challenging to study abroad. But this is changing, and global experience is increasingly crucial to success in all fields.”
The annual survey was sent to approximately 3,000 accredited US higher education institutions, who report on the international students enrolled at their campuses. It defines an international student as anyone studying at a higher education institution in the US on a temporary visa that allows for academic coursework. These include primarily holders of F (student) visas and J (exchange visitor) visas.