Opinion Articles

Opinion pieces by Alliance staff.

By: Andrea Bodine, Gabrielle Cascio, and Caroline Fox

Every year at the beginning of International Education Week, the Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange is released by the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and the Institute of International Education (IIE). This report provides an in-depth examination of the international student and study abroad landscape. As we amplify international education and exchange stories throughout the week, the Open Doors data grounds these narratives and speaks to the larger trends in the field. 

In his remarks during the Open Doors data release, Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated, “When international students come to the United States—and when Americans study abroad—they bring their talents, perspectives, and cultures to their new communities. And when they work with peers to advance research and knowledge, they spark innovation and forge bonds across borders that can last a lifetime.”  

Below are some key takeaways from this year’s data:

1. International student numbers in the U.S. are on the rise. 

  • During the 2021-22 academic year, 948,519 international students studied in the U.S., up 4% from the previous academic year. China, India, and South Korea remain the top three sending countries, though the number of students from China decreased by 8.6%.  
  • In conjunction with the 2022 Open Doors release, NAFSA’s annual update to their International Student Economic Value Tool finds that international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities contributed $33.8 billion and supported 335,423 jobs to the U.S. economy during the 2021-2022 academic year.

2. U.S. student study abroad numbers are way down, but a rebound is on the horizon. 

  • There was a 91.1% decrease in study abroad participants from 2019-20 to 2020-21. Keep in mind that the Open Doors data for U.S. study abroad lags one year behind, so this large drop is reflecting the worst of the pandemic travel decreases.  
  • IIE’s Snapshot Surveys indicate a rebound in study abroad is on the near horizon: 83% of institutions anticipated increased study abroad numbers in 2022-23. The rate of growth in global student mobility has increased steadily over the past 20 years, with the average growth rate being 5%.

3. There is still work to be done to ensure the study abroad population reflects the U.S. population. 

  • Diversifying study abroad remains a primary goal; while 46% of students in the U.S. come from minority racial and/or ethnic backgrounds, only 32% of study abroad participants identify as such.  
  • As institutions continue to expand study abroad opportunities, “continued focus in this area is necessary to align with the national U.S. student enrollment trend.”

4. Virtual exchange is key for increasing accessibility and sustainability. 

  • 32,990 students participated in virtual global learning experiences in 2020-21, with the number of institutions reporting data having doubled since 2019-20. These learning experiences included remote internships, remote academic courses, and videoconference dialogues, highlighting the increasing presence of virtual technology in international exchange

In the words of Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Lee Satterfield, “International education is undoubtedly a foundational pillar of our people-to-people diplomacy work to support broader U.S. foreign policy goals.” We are encouraged by the rebounds and resiliency the 2022 Open Doors report reflects and look forward to using this data as we move into 2023.

What we’re reading on the 2022 Open Doors Report: