NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 24, 2008

In the media's version, America during the Bush years has been an unpopular and insular country.  But one group would seem to differ: young people.  The United States remains the top destination for students from around the world, while Americans are studying abroad in record numbers too, says the Wall Street Journal.

The New York-based Institute of International Education's "Open Doors" report, published this week, shows that more foreign students than ever are flocking to American colleges and universities:

  • International student enrollment increased by 7 percent to 623,805 in the 2007-08 academic year -- the largest annual increase since 1980.
  • More American students are choosing to study abroad; in 2006-07, 241,791 Americans studied in foreign universities, a 150 percent increase from a decade ago.
  • Students are also looking further afield than long-popular Europe, heading instead to places like Tsinghua University in Beijing.

More good news is lurking in the explanations for these trends. American universities continue to enjoy a world-wide reputation for academic excellence and cutting-edge research, even if there's room for improvement.  And hosting these students gives the United States an opportunity to show them American life and values in action, a useful myth-dispelling exercise.  On the other side of the equation, many young Americans are interested in, and engaged with, the world beyond their borders -- which says something about the kind of business and political leaders they'll be after graduation, says the Journal.

If there's a darker note here, it's that Congress remains uninterested in keeping those foreign students in the country once we've invested in their training -- witness the annual cap of H-1B work visas at 65,000.  Higher education is a case study in the benefits of free movement of people across borders, says the Journal.

Source: Editorial, "America the Popular; A lesson from students about foreign exchange," Wall Street Journal, November 21, 2008.

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