Chinese Nearly a Third of All Foreign Students in US

China sent as many students to US colleges as the next four sources of foreign students combined during the 2012-13 school year, according to a study by the Institute of International Education and the US State Department.

The number of students from China jumped 21% over the 2011-12 school year to a new high of 235,597, solidifying the nation’s grip on the top spot on the list of sources of foreign students to US universities. That made the number of students from China about equal to the total sent by the next four biggest sources of foreign students: India (96,754), S. Korea (70,627), Saudi Arabia (44,566) and Canada (27,357). Students from China make up 28.7% of the 819,644 foreign college students in the US, rising from 21.4% a year earlier.

The number of students from Korea fell for the second straight year. Though they make up only 8.6% of foreign students, an unusually high 83% are enrolled in degree programs. By contrast only about half the students from China are in degree programs, with the rest coming to the US mainly to study English or for relatively brief stays as exchange students.

Japan had been the top source of foreign students between 1994 and 1999 but dropped to seventh place, sending just 19,568 during the past school year. The drop is attributed to a decline in the number of young people, concern about missing out on Japan’s rather rigid corporate recruitment cycle and an economy mired in a quarter century of stagnation.

The US universities with the highest enrollments of foreign students are USC (9,840), University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign (9,800) Purdue (9,500), NYU (9,400), Columbia (8,900) and UCLA (8,500).

By state California attracted the most foreign students at 111,000, followed by New York (88,000), Texas (63,000) and Massachusetts.

Foreign students contribute about $24 billion to the US economy, according to the State Department.

The number of Americans studying abroad have tripled over the past two decades to a record of 283,332 last school year. That’s still only a third of the reciprocal number. Unlike the majority of international students who come to the US to pursue degrees, most American students tend to go for only a semester or two as foreign exchange students. Their favorite destinations are Britain, Italy, Spain, France and China.

China has surged as an overseas study destination thanks in part to the Beijing Olympics, an increase in the number of classes taught in English, and a State Department program called 100,000 Strong launched in 2010 with the goal of sending 100,000 American students to China over four years. Even so, only 14,887 Americans studied in China in the 2011-12 school year, not including students going there for non-credit programs.