The number of international students attending American colleges and universities has nearly rebounded from a slump that followed the 2001 terrorist attacks, which triggered tough new visa restrictions and closer monitoring of foreign scholars.
During the 2006-2007 academic year, nearly 583,000 international students took classes at U.S. schools, just 3,000 fewer than the record enrollment set just before the crackdown began, according to a recent report from the State Department and the nonprofit Institute of International Education.
The enrollment figures were welcomed by government and academic officials who have worked to attract foreigners.
“This is a hugely important economic investment as well as an investment in human capital,” said Tom Farrell, deputy assistant secretary for academic programs at the State Department, which released the report last month.
“We believe that people who study and learn here with us are better able to work with us later in their careers.”
In January 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings co-hosted a summit attended by college presidents. The goal: To recruit more foreign students to U.S. schools.
That resulted in new grants to help foreign students study in the U.S., stepped-up recruiting in places such as India and China, and the hiring of new consular officials to expedite student visa applications.
But some immigration-control advocates question the benefits of having non-Americans taking up desks and dorm rooms at U.S. institutions, which are seen as a back door into the country.
“It’s being used in a way it was not originally intended to be used,” said Steve Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies. “It farms out U.S. immigration policy to schools, who may or may not have the best interests of U.S. policy in mind.”
According to the report, India sends more scholars to U.S. institutions than any other foreign country—nearly 84,000 in 2006, a 9.6 percent increase over the prior year. China is second, followed by South Korea.
The biggest growth was among students from Saudi Arabia. Nearly 8,000 students from that country attended American colleges and universities in 2006-2007, a 128 percent increase over 2005-2006.
The University of Southern California enrolls the greatest numbers of international students—more than 7,000, followed by Columbia University and New York University.