AU's International Student Body Up 39 Percent; 61 Percent of AU Students Study Abroad

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Dilanthi Ranaweera, SIS/MA '15.

American University’s international student population increased by 39 percent over last year, adding 903 new students, according to a new report on the impact of international education on the U.S. higher education sector. The increase at AU bucks a continuing decline in international student enrollment nationwide, and points to AU’s long history of welcoming international students, distinctive academic programs, comprehensive pathways program, and the location of Washington, D.C., as a draw for students from abroad, said Fanta Aw, vice president for campus life and inclusive excellence.

Open Doors 2018 is a report of the Institute of International Education and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It examines the numbers and profile of international students in the United States in 2017-18 and of U.S. students receiving academic credit for study abroad in 2016-17.  

According to the report, while the number of international students increased nationwide, new student enrollments fell by 6.6 percent in 2017-18, continuing a slowing or downward trend first observed in the 2015-16 academic year. Current gains in the total number of international students are due primarily to a 15.8 percent increase in participation in the Optional Practical Training program, the report said. OPT is a program that allows international students to practice their skills in the U.S. for up to 12 months during or after they complete their academic programs, or up to 36 months for students who have earned a degree in STEM fields. 

International students’ contribution to AU and the U.S.

AU’s numbers don’t reflect the national decline, but AU can’t afford to be complacent, to maintain its distinctiveness, Aw said, and because international students make important contributions to U.S. society and its economy. International students contributed more than $42.4 billion to the U.S. economy in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. International students contribute to America’s scientific and technical research and bring international perspectives into U.S. classrooms, helping prepare American students for global careers and future economic and business benefits for the U.S., according to the report.

“The national climate combined with the cost of higher education in the U.S. and increased competition for talent, both from universities in the U.S. and international students being driven to study in different parts of the world, means a slowing of interest in the U.S.,” Aw said. “We need to make sure AU remains a desirable draw.”

AU is home to 2,118 international students, representing 130 countries. For the fall semester, the majority of students are from China (1,002), followed by India (51) and Saudi Arabia (48). Of the new 903 enrollees, 204 seek undergraduate degrees, 254 are graduate-degree seeking students, and 445 are non-degree seeking students. 

International students seek a combination of quality education and a range of student services to ensure their success, Aw said. AU’s International Student and Scholar Services serves as international students’ “home away from home,” and their anchor, Aw said. With a culturally competent staff critical to helping bridge students’ transition to the culture, language and U.S. education system, the department provides support services like the international student orientation, spring festival, language exchange program and more. 

AU’s continued strength in study abroad

Where study abroad for U.S. students is concerned, AU also stands out. AU improved its national ranking to #7 this year (up two spots from #9) by institutional type and percent of undergraduates who studied abroad, according to Open Doors. About 61 percent of AU students study abroad for the rigorous, immersive and profound experiences they get by living and learning in another culture. Open Doors finds this national number improving, with the number of Americans studying abroad for academic credit at their home institutions in 2016-17 growing by 2.3 percent. 

Learn about some of the international students at AU

Sabina Blanco Vecchi and Candela Blanco Vecchi (Argentina) Two of a Kind: Argentine Twins are Fulbright Scholars at SPA

Adam Odomore (Nigeria) Working toward a more equitable world

Fangfei Lan, recent alumna (China) Next Steps: AU Graduate Finds Herself Through Math and Dance

Dilanthi Ranaweera, recent alumna (Sri Lanka) Sowing Opportunity

Learn about study abroad experiences from AU students

Sarah Melton (at Peking University, China): Running the Great Wall: AU Student Goes the Distance at Majestic Site

Erin McGoff, recent alumna (in Laos): Laos Through Her Lens

Devin Kuhn and Jacob Atkins (Phoenix Islands, Pacific Ocean) CAS Students Sail the Pacific for Science