The International Student Population: Past and Present Demographic Trends

By Walker, David A. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, June 2000 | Go to article overview
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The International Student Population: Past and Present Demographic Trends


Walker, David A., Journal of Instructional Psychology


The number of international students studying within the American system of higher education continues to increase. Many student affairs professionals and faculty members are in leadership positions of determining the direction of resource acquisition, resource allocation, and program planning for international student programs and support services. Because of this, higher education professionals need to have a working knowledge of the past and present demographic changes and trends that affect international students.

During the last four decades, the American system of higher education has been influenced greatly by the large influx of international students admitted into colleges and universities throughout the country. The most recent statistics show that during the 1997-98 academic year, 481,280 undergraduate and graduate international students, or 3.4 % of the total higher education population, studied at American colleges and universities (Davis, 1998).

As the international student population continues to increase and become more diverse, it is important for professionals in higher education to have an understanding of the demographic trends and changes that affects this emerging student group. Student affairs professionals and faculty members often are in leadership positions of determining the direction of resource acquisition, resource allocation, and program planning for international student programs and support services (Parr, Bradley, & Bingi, 1991).

Past Demographic Trends of International Students

During the last 40 years, large numbers of international students have participated in the American system of higher education. For example, during the 1954-55 academic year, there were 34,232 international students enrolled in American institutions of higher education. Twenty years later, 1974-75, there were 154,580 international students enrolled. By the 1979-80 academic year, 286,343 international students had enrolled in American colleges and universities. During the 1984-85 academic year, 342,113 international students were studying in the United States and 2.5 billion dollars were being allocated to the education of these students (Altbach, Kelly, & Lulat, 1985; Davis, 1998). As Huntley (1993) noted about the changing demographic trends of international students in the early 1990s:

   It is clear that several trends emerge from the present ... demographics of
   international students: the international population is composed of more
   Asian students, more graduate and doctoral students, and more women than
   ever before, and it is expected that those numbers will increase
   significantly over the course of the decade. (p. 3)

Present Demographic Trends of International Students

As the American system of higher education enters upon the 21st century, the enrollment of international students continues to grow. The demographic composition of today's international students shows that of the 481,280 students enrolled during the 1997-98 academic year, 279,142 (58%) were male and 202,138 (42%) were female. The majority of these international students were classified as either undergraduates (221,389 or 46%) or graduates (206,950 or 43%) (Davis 1998).

International students were enrolled in six institutional types: Research I & II, Doctoral I & II, Master's I & II, Baccalaureate Colleges I & II, two-year institutions, and "other" institutions. Research institutions enrolled the most international students at 197,325 or 41%. Master's institutions enrolled 91,443 international students or 19%. Two-year institutions enrolled 72,192 international students or 15%. Doctoral institutions enrolled 67,379 international students or 14%. "Other" institutions enrolled 28,877 international students or 6.

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