More than 800,000 Foreign Students in U.S.; Most Study Business, Science and Engineering

Sunday, August 31, 2014
(graphic: Steve Straehley, AllGov)

The United States is the world’s top choice for higher education, with most of the hundreds of thousands students here to study business, engineering or science.


A report from the Brookings Institution shows that in the 2012-2013 academic year there were 819,644 international students studying in the United States. The greatest percentage of those undergraduates holding F-1 visas, the most common visa classification for international students, were studying business, management or marketing at 32.4%, according to the survey. Engineering disciplines were next at 11.5%.  


The number of international students has expanded dramatically. In 2001, there were 110,000 F-1 visa holders in the United States. By 2012, that number had increased by almost five times, to 524,000.


China was the single greatest source of students holding F-1 visas; representing one-quarter of all foreign students. Next is India at 15%, followed by South Korea at 10%.


These students don’t all go home at the conclusion of their studies. Many take part in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. Under OPT, F-1 visa holders may apply to work in their fields in the United States after graduation. Those in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields can stay for 29 months after graduation; graduates in non-STEM fields are limited to 12 months. As of November 2013, there were about 100,000 employees in the United States under the OPT program.


Proponents of international students say they create economic benefit to the communities in which they’re studying and build bridges between their country and the United States.


State universities also like international students because they’re charged more than in-state residents for tuition. In California, some say the number of international students has pushed in-state students out of spots in their preferred campus of the University of California, which is subsidized by their family’s tax dollars.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

The Geography of Foreign Students in U.S. Higher Education: Origins and Destinations (by Neil G. Ruiz, Brookings Institution)

The International Student Economic Value Tool (NAFSA)

Record Number of UC Freshmen Are from Out of State (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

State Dept. Bans Nonprofit Accused of Exploiting Foreign Exchange Students (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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