The latest Open Doors report, analysing international student enrolments at US universities, reveals that overall numbers are up by 5.7 per cent to 764,495 students between 2010/2011 and 2011/2012, the biggest increase recorded in three years. And individual universities in the USA were keen to back up this evidence of an international student boom with their own personal experiences.
“Our international numbers have gone up,” says Angel Perez at Pitzer College in Claremont, CA. “In fact, the number of international students admitted to Pitzer this year represents 10 per cent of the freshman class. The largest representation comes from China and India, but we also have an increasing number of students from Japan, Taiwan, Europe and the Middle East.”
David Felsen from Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, FL, echoes this finding at his own campus. “International student numbers have gone up,” he says. “[Our largest student nationalities are from] Saudi Arabia, Bahamas, Venezuela, the UK, Haiti, France and Jamaica. [There has been] a sudden surge in the Saudi student population [while] other markets are consistent.”
For many students, studying at a university in the USA is seen as the gold standard in terms of the quality of education on offer, as well as for future education or work opportunities, and the figures certainly point to the fact that increasing numbers of students are choosing to study in the USA and also, importantly, are able to get a visa to enter. A period of stagnant and negative growth between 2002 and 2006, when the country radically altered its visa policy towards overseas students, appears to have been placed firmly in the past.
Increased marketing on behalf of tertiary providers, as well as better established visa processes, are clearly helping the country to gain momentum in attracting international students. Perez says, “Our marketing efforts, international travel and increase of alumni around the globe has certainly increased our international enrolment.”
However, declines from some key student markets are also being masked by massive increases from a few countries. For example, students from China and Saudi Arabia increased by a significant 23.1 per cent and 50.4 per cent respectively between 2010/2011 and 2011/2012, while numbers from India, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan all declined (see bar chart below). The increase in Saudi Arabian students can be explained by the well-publicised scholarship programme introduced by the Saudi government, while the reason behind large increases in a number of Chinese students can only be speculated as greater ease for this nationality in obtaining a study visa.
Manny Tavares at Johnson and Wales University (JWU) in Providence, RI, says despite a slight fall in Chinese students last year, this nationality is “by far our biggest international population”. He adds, “This trend started in 2008 and has continued to grow substantially, which I am sure is the case all over the USA. In addition to China, the countries representing top enrolments include South Korea, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, India, Morocco and Turkey. Besides the explosive enrolment from China in recent years, our top countries have been fairly consistent with Asia dominating enrolment numbers.”
When it comes to courses that are popular with international students in the USA, colleges and universities report that interest is spread across a variety of sectors. Tavares points out that the university is recognised as a leader in the fields of hospitality and culinary arts education. “Many of our Chinese students enrol in our hospitality college, and many Korean students study in our college of culinary arts where they also study baking, pastry arts and culinary nutrition,” he says. “We have been witnessing the openings of a number of new restaurants in Seoul by our alumni.”
Saudi students in particular are attracted to courses within the school of technology, adds Tavares. “[This includes programmes in] electronics engineering, graphic design and digital media, network and software engineering and computer programming.” JWU’s two-year MBA programme is also attractive due to its relatively low cost. In Florida, Felsen reveals that popular courses are “business undergraduate programmes such as marketing management, computer information systems and sport business”.
While recruitment seems to be on the up, it is worth noting that visa restraints may still prevent some markets from reaching their full potential. Tavares says, “[Some] markets have been impacted by the visa situation and maybe there is a perception that it is harder to navigate some of the hurdles in the admissions and visa process to US institutions.” He adds, “Budget constraints do limit what colleges can do. It has been the case here at JWU where the total number of weeks committed to overseas recruitment has decreased due to the cost associated with overseas business travel.”
Percentage change in numbers of top international student nationalities at US universities between 2010/2011 and 2011/2012
(Due to the complexity of the data, this article is only displayed in the digital issue of Study Travel Magazine)