International Relations 101: US Colleges Admit Surge of Asian Students; US Study Abroad to Asia Pacific Also Rises

Asia ASEAN Japan Korea Australia China India Taiwan
A map of the world showing the top countries of origin for international students to the United States in 2010/2011. Graphic by: Institute for International Education (Click to Enlarge)

Last week marked the start of the year of the dragon throughout much of East Asia, but thousands of young people celebrated the Lunar New Year half a world away on college campuses across the United States. Chinese New Year, Spring Festival, and Tet celebrations have become increasingly common as the population of international students from Asia in America has exploded in recent years. According to the 2011 Open Doors report by the Institute of International Education (IIE), more international students came from the Asia Pacific last year than any other region.

Asia Pacific Leads in International Students

In the 2010-2011 academic year, nearly 462,000 students from Asian countries studied at US universities and colleges. Including 5,610 students from Oceania, Asia Pacific international students accounted for 65% of the total. The number of Asia Pacific students studying in the US grew 6% from the previous year.

Nearly every year, US institutions of higher education welcome an increasing number of students from abroad. Among the leading places of origin, six of the top ten are Asian countries, with China, India, and South Korea ranking 1st, 2nd, and 3rd overall. The total number of students from these six countries account for over half, 55%, of all foreign students in the United States.

The large influx of students from the Asia Pacific has resulted from a combination of increased demand for high-quality education among the rapidly growing Asian economies and the efforts of American institutions to increase their recruiting activities abroad, particularly turning their focus to Asia. Because international students tend to pay higher tuition than their state-subsidized American peers, many schools in the US are increasing their marketing efforts in Asia as they face the strain from shrinking public budgets. A fall 2011 enrollment survey of colleges and universities by IIE revealed that of the institutions that increased their overseas recruitment efforts, the majority concentrated on Asia. US educational institutions expanded their recruitment in China by 30%, in India by 19%, in Southeast Asia by 19%, in Korea by 15%, and in Japan by 7%.

As a result, the number of Chinese students in American schools has grown particularly fast, by 23% in the past year alone! While this represents a great opportunity for exchange between American and Chinese students, and benefits to local economies, the increase has not been without problems. As more US institutions rely on third party recruiters, largely to overcome the cultural-linguistic barriers between the two countries, a growing number of Chinese students who arrive in the US find themselves to be an ill-fit for their new schools. Some American professors have struggled to teach students who were admitted with falsified, exaggerated, or plagiarized application materials prepared by Chinese recruiting agencies for sometimes exorbitant fees. Both the recruiting industry in China and American educational institutions are attempting to ameliorate these problems by demanding greater accountability from recruiters, and providing more on-campus resources to help international students to succeed, such as intensive English-language courses.

As US Study Abroad Rise, Rise in Trips to Asia

Table of Top-10 Places of Origin for Foreign Students in the United States and Top-10 Destinations for American Students Abroad (Click to Enlarge)

At the same time, to meet goals of preparing their students for global careers, US universities and colleges are sending a growing number of American students to study abroad, with Asia becoming an increasingly popular destination. According to the 2011 Open Doors report, from 2000 to 2010 the share of US college students currently studying in Asia has doubled: from 6% to 12%. A fifth of the top 25 study abroad destinations for the 2009/2010 academic year were in the Asia Pacific, with China ranked fifth, Australia sixth, and Japan, India, and New Zealand ranked 11th, 14th, and 19th respectively. Each of the most popular destinations in Asia enjoyed a rise in American students from the year before, with India seeing an increase of an incredible 44%!

International student exchange can also benefit bilateral international relations. Last October, over 300 education leaders and government officials attended the US-India Higher Education Summit, held by both governments at Georgetown University, with the goal of strengthening bilateral educational cooperation and exchange. In her opening remarks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton named educational collaboration “a driving force in our strategic dialogue with the Government of India.” The State Department has launched a numerous of initiatives and resources for US and international students, such as EducationUSA, as part of its efforts to promote such educational exchanges.

To capitalize on these trends, education and government officials throughout Asia are working to make their institutions more attractive study abroad destinations. South Korea now has over 120 schools that offer programs in English and the Japanese government has launched an initiative to boost the number of international students to 300,000 over the next decade through scholarships for foreign students and partnerships between top Japanese schools and overseas universities. Meanwhile, America remains the destination of choice for many of Asia’s young people, such as Wenzy Duan of Beijing. Explaining her dream to attend school in the US, Duan told MSNBC: “In America, I can experience more…maybe all kinds of things I will never experience in China.” If Wenzy gets her wish, perhaps she will be among the next batch of international students to celebrate Lunar New Year on campus in America.