Nearly 700,000 foreign-born students are enrolled in U.S. universities, up from 550,000 a decade ago.
Most of this growth is from China and India, two burgeoning mega-countries with a growing middle class. “The middle class in China or India is bigger than the total population of the U.S.,” says Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education. “Education is a tremendously important value to these people.”
The U.S. is the leading destination for international college students for a number of reasons, Goodman says. One is the sheer number of colleges and universities; more than one in every four institutes of higher learning in the world is in the U.S. And in contrast to many countries, where degrees are bought and sold, American universities have a reputation for a lack of corruption. “In other places, you buy your way into school, you buy your grades, you buy your degree,” Goodman says. “It’s not like that here.”
International students aren’t eligible for financial aid, so most pay their own way. This is great for a college’s bottom line, and colleges and universities are well aware of this.
“That’s a huge market which U.S. institutions have been looking at,” says John Pryor of UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute. “You’re looking at students paying a high price for institutions in the U.S. This is one way institutions are trying to meet their budgets.”
Many U.S. colleges send recruiters abroad. International students account for 3 percent of the total school population. At some schools, such as Carnegie Mellon University, international students account for between 11 and 14 percent of enrollment. In Pennsylvania, international students bring close to $900 million into the local economy.
Economics aside, colleges also want international students for the richness of cultural exchange they bring, Goodman says. “It’s really good for our students to sit next to people from Brazil, India, and China. It’s part of the experience of going to college.”
International students tend to study science and medicine, areas where their countries may be lacking. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has implemented a scholarship for students that pays the entire cost of a U.S. education. Consequently, that country is now one of the top 10 countries with students in the U.S.
No matter their country of origin, international students are not deterred by the high price of a U.S. education. “They know what our price is, but they’ve actually been saving a bit of money for it,” says Goodman. “They don’t have a boat or three cars; they don’t own their own home, but they have real money. Globalization has brought real money. They probably have $225,000 they’ve been saving for a child to get a college degree.”