The number of international students studying in the U.S. has increased 6.2 percent in the past year, according to a report issued last Friday (April 29) from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).
But it is generally at smaller schools, rather than some of the higher-profile universities, that the foreign pupils are attending.
There are 1.2 million international students in the U.S. as of March, slightly above the 1.13 million last year.
Over three-quarters of the international student body, 77 percent, are from Asia, with China at the top of the list.
Looking at longer trends, few of the nation’s largest universities have increased the number of foreign students since 2000, though, according to figures compiled by the Institute of International Education (IIE), a non-profit funded in part by federal funds.
Instead, smaller colleges in the northeast are boosting their enrollments, with schools like the University of Rochester, Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania seeing increases of up to 28 percent between 2000 and 2014.
Ivy League schools, considered the most difficult to get into, landed in the middle for international admissions, from the 10 percent increase at Columbia to the dip of one percent at Cornell. Harvard and Brown saw increases of six percent.
Among the largest public colleges, Michigan State University’s international enrollment grew the most since 2000, from 2 percent to 15 percent. Arizona State University, with the largest total enrollment of any college in the U.S. for the year 2013-2014, grew from one percent international enrollment to 10 during that decade-and-a half.
The influx is driven by the prestige of the American education system and a growing middle class in other countries, says Peggy Blumenthal, a senior counselor at the New York-based IIE.
She added that “U.S. universities have had severe cuts in funding from the states and some are seeing lower endowments, so if they want to maintain the same level of service and academics for domestic students, the international students do bring that substantial extra revenue that replaces the lost revenue.”
As for the increase in foreign enrollment in the smaller universities, Blumenthal said increased recruitment is a part of that as “smaller schools can be looking to diversify their student bodies for both academic and economic reasons.”
Cultural factors in the home country of many of the students are part of what is driving students to the U.S., including family pressures. Some societies encourage a young person on a path he or she may not want to take, and the choice of school is sometimes made for that student rather than giving a student the freedom to select a college.
Students also say that preparing for a career in an international field makes the U.S., still considered the center of business in the world, an attractive place to study and learn.
In other cases, the U.S. is selected for the social experience, safety and scholarship opportunities.
The students as a whole tend to gravitate toward so-called STEM programs, which include math, science, technology and engineering. Business, though, is a close second to curriculums related to the STEM programs.
The choices vary by country of origin; for example, most students from Turkey pursue engineering degrees, selected by 21 percent in a study conducted by the IIE.
One-quarter of international students from Thailand choose business as a major study and 60 percent of those from China select business.
California remains the leader in attracting international students, with an increase of 43 percent of students, to 135,130, since 2010.
New York is second, with an increase of 40 percent to 106,758 since 2010, and Texas is third, with 75,588 students, a jump of 28 percent.
Students from China drove the gains in New York and California, while students from India make up the majority of international enrollees in Texas.