Studying Abroad Now Insanely Popular

by Krystin Arneson

Everyone knows it's sexy to be a foreign exchange student, but apparently, it's also popular. The new 2013 Open Doors Report finds that foreign students are coming to the United States in record numbers, with students from China (and to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia) primarily behind the seven percent increase from last year. American students are also studying abroad in record numbers, although there are not nearly as many of them — just 283,332 students.

According to the study, most American students who study abroad tend to favor the UK, Italy, France, Spain, and China. American students also typically don't spend as much time away from their home country as other foreign exchange students do, usually choosing to be away only for a summer or semester block.

Meanwhile, last academic year, 819,644 foreign students came to the U.S. to study — up about 55,000 from last year and up 40 percent from just 10 years ago. A blossoming new Chinese middle class has helped send over about 235,000 students (a 21 percent jump), with about 78,000 of them here to study business or management.

"Chinese students and their parents are looking for high quality education, get the importance of international education, and it's making America the No. 1 destination because we actually have the capacity to absorb international students," said Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the institute.

India, one of the countries that traditionally sends over a large percentage of America's international students, was still among the top-represented nations. But thanks to a decline in the rupee's value, the number of students they sent over this year was 3.5 percent lower than last year, dropping below 100,000. Saudia Arabia picked up the slack, sending over 30 percent more students. South Korea and Canada also populate American's campuses.

The number of international students is still relatively low compared to the nation's college student population as a whole, forming just under four percent of campus populations on average.

Foreign students bring in $24 billion annually, and 66 percent of them pay their own way. As for the schools with the most foreign students? USC, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Purdue, NYU and Columbia topped the list.

And numbers may continue to rise when it comes to Americans studying abroad: a partnership with the Chinese government called 100,000 Strong wants to send over 100,000 Americans in four years. With the Beijing Olympics still in the public eye and an increased number of classes taught in English, more and more students are electing to head over. Last year, for example, 14.887 students took for-credit classes in the Asian nation, up two percent from the previous year. But with 90 percent of American students still spending zero time abroad (?!), it's going to take awhile before the U.S. catches up with the rest of the world.

"We need to increase substantially the number of U.S. students who go abroad so that they too can gain the international experience which is so vital to career success and deepening mutual understanding,” Goodman said.

Translation: Don't let the rest of the world out-understand us, America.