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More foreign students than ever in U.S. colleges

| Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

The number of international students enrolled in U.S. colleges climbed 6 percent to a record 764,495 last year, propelled primarily by continuing increases of students from China and a recent surge from Saudi Arabia, a report released on Monday finds.

The number of students earning academic credit abroad continues to increase but at a slower rate, the report states. In 2010-11, 273,996 U.S. students studied abroad, up 1.3 percent from the previous year. About 14 percent of students earning bachelor's degrees this year studied abroad by the time they graduated, according to the nonprofit Institute of International Education, which tracks student mobility data.

Raising concerns that American students are not developing the skills they will need to succeed in a global workforce, IIE President Allan Goodman called on U.S. educators to step up efforts to send more students abroad. He added that the rising numbers of international students at campuses may help offset the low study-abroad participation rates of U.S. students.

“As more and more (international) undergrads come here, it may be the only way our American students get a chance” to interact with someone from another country, Goodman said.

A just-published study in the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication suggests that many international students are disappointed in their relationships with U.S. students. Author Elisabeth Gareis found that 38 percent of 454 international students attending 10 public universities had reported no strong friendships with U.S. students, and 27 percent were not satisfied with the quality of the friends they had made. Students from China and East Asia were most likely to be unhappy with the quality of their relationships.

Peggy Blumenthal, a senior official at the IIE, made note of one benefit for the increase in international enrollments: tuition revenue. Most international students pay full tuition, and about two-thirds pay primarily using personal and family funds. That revenue enables colleges to offer financial aid to domestic students, she said.

Among other findings from the Institute of International Education study:

• China continues to send the most students — 194,029 last year — to the United States, up 23 percent from the previous year. The number of students from Saudi Arabia jumped 50 percent, to 34,139 last year. Much of that increase is driven by a scholarship program started in 2005 by Saudi King Abdullah.

• The University of Southern California, a private university, continues to host the most international students — 9,269 last year.

• Public universities represent 14 of the 20 U.S. institutions with the largest international enrollments; the University of Illinois hosted 8,997 international students last year.

• The United Kingdom remained the top destination for U.S. students in 2010-11. Europe, and particularly Italy and Spain, continued to attract tens of thousands of students. But more students are selecting non-European destinations.

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