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Back-to-School Means More International Trade in Education

September 10, 2015

This post originally appeared on the Department of Commerce blog

Student in University Classroom

Student in University Classroom

Guest blog post by John Siegmund, International Trade Specialist, International Trade Administration

As the summer comes to an end, millions of students are returning to campuses all over the country.  A good portion of these students are coming from abroad. Did you know that the tuition and living expenses of foreign students make up an important services export?  In 2013 the total came to $27 billion in U.S. exports, roughly twice the amount of a decade ago.  The total number of international students has also grown steadily.

The Department of Commerce recently released the Top Markets Report on Education.  The report highlights market dynamics, trends and key challenges to studying in the United States.

About 886,000 foreign students were studying at colleges and universities in the United States in 2013/14. The top five sending countries that year were; China (274,000 students), India (101,000 students), South Korea (68,000 students), Saudi Arabia (54,000 students), and Canada (28,000 students).

The report also projects future export opportunities based on research and trends. The eight markets that offer potentially the best opportunities to increase foreign enrollments in the years ahead are Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam.  Selection of these key markets, described in the report’s methodology, is based on the number of students from a given country studying in the United States, the total number studying abroad, and historical growth rates of students studying in the United States.

Enrollment of international students is important to U.S. institutions, but they face competitive challenges, notably (1) growing competition from other English-language countries primarily the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia; (2) competition from English-language programs in countries where English is not the language of the country; and (3) the perception of difficulties and delays in getting U.S. student visas.

The report also offers reasons that students choose to study abroad.  Demographics, economics, secondary school completion rates, tuition costs, household income, and employer needs all play a role.  The most popular fields of study include business and management, and the STEM fields.

Although the United States is the largest destination country for international students, the U.S. percentage share of international students has eroded over the past decade. The number of international students worldwide has increased faster than has the number of international students coming to the United States. I would encourage you to take a look at the Top Markets Report on Education to learn more about this surprising industry!

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