International student enrollment in the United States in the 2009-10 academic year increased by a modest 3% from the previous year according to the Open Doors report by the Institute of International Education. The number of students from China increased by an impressive 30% from the previous year, surpassing India as the top source of international students. Most other countries in Asia, however, saw either single digit growth or declines in their enrollment. Countries in Asia continue to account for five of the top six leading sources of international students in the United States.
There was uneven growth in students from ASEAN countries. Students from Vietnam reached their highest numbers ever, with 13,112 enrolled students in the United States. However, the pace of growth slowed considerably from previous years: a 2.3% increase this year, compared with more than 45% growth in the previous two academic years (2007-09) and more than 25% growth in 2005-06 and 2006-07. Malaysia also experienced modest growth, with 6,190 students, an increase of 4.2% over the previous year.
Students from Thailand (8,531) and Indonesia (6,943) decreased, continuing long declines in student numbers for both countries. At their height in 1997-98, the two countries accounted for over 28,000 students in the US; now the number is just over half that. A majority of Thai students (53%) are enrolled in graduate programs, unlike students from other ASEAN countries.
Students from China accounted for most of the growth in international students in the US. Enrollment increased by almost 30,000 students from the previous year, to a total of nearly 128,000. They represent almost 19% of all international students in the US. Enrollment from India increased by a more modest 1.6% to a total of nearly 105,000 students. This marks the first time since the 2001-02 academic year where China was the number one source of international students in the United States. A majority of students from both China and India are enrolled in graduate programs.
According to the New York Times (China Surges Past India as Top Home of Foreign Students, Nov. 15), demographics play an important role in enrollment differences between China and India:
“The number of students from China is booming, because of that booming Chinese economy,” said Peggy Blumenthal, executive vice president of the institute. “But India, which also has a booming economy, is only up 1.6 percent. I think one factor is the great number of Chinese families with disposable income, two working parents and only one child, and a determination to invest their money to make sure that child receives the best education possible.”
Students from Japan declined by 15% from the previous year, with enrollment of 24,842 in 2009-10, accounting for 3.6% of all international students in the US. Combined with a 14% decline from two years ago, this continues a long slide in the numbers of Japanese students from a high of over 47,000 in 1997-98, when they accounted for almost 10% of all international students. A majority of Japanese students in the US (53%) are enrolled as undergraduates.
Compared with last year, enrollment decreased in students from South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Nepal, Hong Kong, and Pakistan. Three of those economies – South Korea, Nepal, and Hong Kong – have sustained decades-long build-ups in students but suffered a small decline in 2009-2010. Taiwan and Pakistan, however, have seen more consistent declines over multiple years.
From all countries, new international student enrollment for the 2009-10 academic year was lower than previous years. In the prior three years, new international student enrollment grew at an annual rate of more than 10%, compared with 1.3% for the most recent year. More than half of the top 25 sending countries showed decreases in students. Total enrollment in US higher education has grown at about 3.5% annually for the last decade.