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Jan 9, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

International student numbers skyrocketed between 2004 and 2016, according to recent data from Pew Research Center. How much so? Nearly 364,000 international students were newly enrolled in American higher education institutions in 2016 -- twice the number enrolled at the beginning of the Great Recession. Here’s a closer look at the findings, along with some particularly interesting takeaways.

Outpacing Domestic Enrollments

International student enrollments spiked by 104 percent between 2008 and 2016. While noteworthy on its own, this data is especially eye-opening when you factor in that overall college enrollment growth grew by just 3.4 percent over the same period of time.

In the three years prior to the Great Recession, meanwhile, new international student enrollments rose by 20 percent compared by 7.2 percent over the same time period for overall enrollments.

Key Takeaways

Drilling down further, the data reveals other key insights, including the following:

●     Public colleges and universities saw the largest increase in international students, experiencing a 107 percent increase compared to the 98 percent increase seen at private institutions.

●     International students were increasingly interested in bachelor’s degrees: the number of international students pursuing bachelor’s degrees increased by 151 percent -- compared to a three percent increase across all public university students.  Graduate degrees remained the most common draw for international students with nearly half of international students undertaking graduate-level degrees, including master’s degrees (41 percent) and PhDs (eight percent).

●     The influx of international students at US colleges and universities was also accompanied by a significant increase in spending: International students spent approximately $15.5 billion in higher education during the eight-year period between 2008 and 2016 -- a 184 percent increase.

●     China, India, and South Korea topped the list of sending countries, accounting for 54 percent of all new international students pursuing university degrees in 2016.

●     Ten states drew two-thirds of international students in 2016: California, New York, Texas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Washington.

●     Male international student enrollments in the US not only topped female international students enrollments, but this gap has grown over the past 12 years


While these figures are (largely) positive, the outlook may not be. Cautions Quartz, “This trend may soon end—the Institute of International Education reported that 10,000 fewer foreign students joined a US university in the 2016-17 school year. Why? Students surveyed were worried about the ‘uncertain US social and political climate.’”

Read more about studying in the US.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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