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Indicator II-22 International Education
NOTE TO READERS: Please include the following reference when citing data from this page: "American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators,"
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Added (9/26/2012).

Since its founding in 1919, the Institute of International Education (IIE) has been collecting data on the volume and nature of student flows among nations. Via annual surveys of several thousand institutions of higher learning, IIE collects data on American students studying abroad and students from other nations who come to study in the United States. The organization publishes these data in a report that since the early 1950s has been known as Open Doors. (Because of the varying accessibility of Open Doors data of different types, the graphs that accompany this indicator do not all display data for the same date ranges. While in some cases several decades of data are presented, in others only 10 years’ worth of information could be gleaned from available materials.)

According to Open Doors, in the 2009/2010 academic year, 270,604 students enrolled at U.S. degree-granting institutions of higher learning participated in study-abroad programs (for academic credit; Figure II-22a). (From this point forward all years given are for the first part of an academic year. For example, 2007 refers to academic year 2007/2008). Student involvement in study abroad has grown steadily since the mid-1980s, with the 2009 figure representing a 458% increase over the 1986 level. The rise in student participation in study abroad has more than kept pace with the substantial growth in postsecondary enrollment. U.S. students pursuing education abroad represented 0.7% of the full-time student population in 1986 but over 2% in 2009. As Figure II-22b indicates, the overwhelming majority of students who study abroad are undergraduates (85.4% in 2009), but participation in study abroad by graduate students has increased since 2000.

Figure II-22a, Full Size
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Figure II-22b, Full Size
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In 2009, approximately 48,400 of those studying abroad were humanities students, up from almost 35,000 in 2000 but down from the decade high of more than 51,000 in 2007 (Figure II-22c). Figure II-22d reveals that throughout the decade humanities students were among those most likely to study abroad, although the share of all study-abroad participants who were humanities students declined over the time period, dropping from 23% to 18%. By the end of the decade the humanities had been overtaken by the social sciences and business as the academic fields whose students were most likely to participate in study-abroad programs.

Figure II-22c, Full Size
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Figure II-22d, Full Size
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In 2009, approximately 15,700 of those humanities students who pursued humanities education abroad were students of languages other than English (Figure II-22e). This number is almost twice as high as in 1986, but down from the 2005 high of approximately 17,400. Over the 2000–2009 time period, the percentage of study-abroad participants studying humanities whose focus was language dropped by several percentage points. In 2009, 32% of humanities students who participated in study abroad, and 6% of all students who studied abroad, were language students.

Figure II-22e, Full Size
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In 2010, more students from other nations, over 723,000, came to the United States to study than in any other year in the previous six decades (Figure II-22f). Those international students who were enrolled in undergraduate or graduate programs represented 4.4% of all full-time students attending U.S. degree-granting institutions (Figure II-22g; an international student is defined by IIE as “. . . anyone studying at an institution of higher education in the United States on a temporary visa that allows for academic coursework. These include primarily holders of F (student) visas and J (exchange visitor) visas.”1). This is a somewhat larger share than in 1979 but a decline from the 2001’s record high of 5.6%. Whereas U.S. students have been much more likely to study abroad as undergraduate than as graduate students, Figure II-22h demonstrates that international students who have come to the United States since 1990 have been distributed relatively evenly between the two categories. (Indicator II-12 presents data on the share of advanced degrees awarded by U.S. institutions of higher education that are earned by international students. The substantial share of such degrees in engineering and the natural sciences could create the impression that international students who come to the United States to study are much likelier to be graduate than undergraduate students. The Open Doors data indicate that this is not the case.) Another trend in the composition of the international student population in the United States is the growth since the mid-2000s in the share of international students who come to the country for nondegree education.

Figure II-22f, Full Size
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Figure II-22g, Full Size
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Figure II-22h, Full Size
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The number of international students pursuing humanities education remained fairly constant from 1990 to 2010, ranging from a low of approximately 15,800 in 1991 to a high of almost 19,200 in 2008 (Figure II-22i). These students were far less likely to study humanities than their American counterparts participating in study-abroad programs. In 2010, students coming to the United States to pursue humanities education represented only 2.2% of all international students in the country, a share that is over a third smaller than it was in 1990. Throughout the two decades, the bulk of international students who came to the United States did so to study business (21.5% in 2010) and engineering (18.7%; Figure II-22j).

Figure II-22i, Full Size
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Figure II-22j, Full Size
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The humanities student counts and shares mentioned in this indicator do not reflect the number of international students who pursued intensive English language study exclusively. Figure II-22k presents data for this group and indicates that for a decade-and-a-half beginning in the mid-1980s the number of such students increased steadily. But beginning in the late 1990s the numbers began to fall, troughing in 2003. Between then and the beginning of the next decade, however, the number of international students pursuing intensive English training increased every year (with the exception of a dip in 2009). In 2010, over 32,000 students came to the United States to study English intensively, the greatest number since data of this kind were first collected by the IIE in 1979. Students coming to the United States only to study English represented 3–5% of all international students over the last three decades, with the share in 2010 being 4.5%.

Figure II-22k, Full Size
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