One way to measure the strength of a nation is look at its gross
national product or its military firepower. Another is to see how
many foreign students opt to go to school there.
After three years of stagnation, the number of international
college students coming to the United States is back up 5.1 percent,
according to a report released yesterday by the New York-based
Institute of International Education, the leading nonprofit
organization on this issue. "For the first time in several years
there has been an increase, and everyone expected there to be no
increase because of the Asian currency crisis," says IIE president
Until this year's "sudden upswing," there had been concern that
the US "was losing its competitive edge in the international
education market," the report concludes. It also suggests that "the
widespread fears of marked enrollment drops due to the consequences
of Asian financial turmoil may not come to pass."
But IIE officials caution that their analysis is based on surveys
from the 1997-98 school year. More recent indicators suggest that
the US may yet have to defend its clout in the rapidly expanding
market in global education.
"The world-class quality of American universities is in part that
they attract the best and the brightest from other parts of the
world. To the extent that students are making other decisions, we
need to be concerned," says Peggy Blumenthal, IIE vice president for
The US has been the No. 1 destination of the world's newly mobile
students, ever since transcontinental flight opened up in the 1950s.
Last year, the tuition payments and living expenses of nearly half a
million international students amounted to $7.5 billion for American
universities and colleges.
For some universities and graduate departments, their presence
became critical. Most foreign students pay their own way, and by the
1980s, many college administrators were building their budgets
a continuing flow of high-pay students from abroad, says IIE's
Goodman. In some science and engineering graduate departments, these
students account for more than half the enrollment.
By 1995, the US share of this market had slipped from 40 percent
in the 1980s to 30 percent, according to the United Nations. New
competitors stepped up incentives and marketing. Australia changed
its visa requirements to allow foreign students to stay and work
after graduation, for example, and German universities began
graduate courses in English. …