Despite Enrollment Dips, International Student Population Climbs


The number of international students in the US hit an all-time high of 1.09 million in 2019, despite enrollment dips at the undergraduate, graduate, and non-degree levels, according to new data from the Institute of International Education (IIE).

The overall gain was primarily due to increased participation in the US Optional Practice Training (OPT) program, which allows international students to work in the country after completing their degree.

The number of US students studying abroad also increased, with one in 10 US undergrads leaving the country for schooling. In the 2017-18 academic year, 341,751 US students participated in study abroad programs for academic credit—a 2.7 percent increase over the previous year.

“The record numbers of international students in the United States and US students studying abroad mean that more students than ever before are being exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking,” IIE President and CEO Allan Goodman said in a press release. “They will have greater ability to succeed in and contribute to an increasingly complex and interconnected world.”

Other top findings from IIE’s Open Doors report include:

  • International students now account for 5.5 percent of US college students. They contributed $44.7 billion to the US economy in 2018.
  • China and India remain the leading countries of origin for international students, with individuals from the two nations accounting for more than half of all international students studying in the states.
  • The three top fields of study for international students are engineering (21.1 percent), math and computer science (18.6 percent), and business and management (16.6 percent).

Explore data from the new Open Doors report and visit NACAC’s international education webpage for more resources.

Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at

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