Thousands of students each year leave their home countries to study at foreign universities. For years, the US has been the most popular choice for many students choosing to broaden their horizons. However, a new global migration report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation stated that in 2000 around 1 in 4 students looking for an education abroad picked an American university, but as of 2012, that was down to only 16%. The US still attracts the highest proportion of foreign students but other English-speaking and developed countries have become increasingly popular. The UK has seen the largest growth and close behind the US with 12.6%, an interesting figure considering that foreign students can pay up to three times the cost of tuition for British and EU citizens.
More than 4.5 million students chose to attend universities outside their country of origin in 2012, with 75% of them choosing developed countries. More than half of these students came from Asia: China provided 22% of the students, followed by India and Korea.
However, the 2013 Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange released in November of 2013 reported that the actual number of international students studying in the US increased by seven percent, reaching a record high of 819,644 students during the 2012/2013 academic year. This is an increase of 55,000 students since the previous year.
The number of US students studying abroad increased by three percent in the 2011/2012 academic year to 283,332 students, a number that has increased by more than threefold from the estimated 71,000 American students that studied abroad in 1991/1992. More than half of these students go to Europe, with the next two popular choices being Latin America and Asia, respectively.
Nevertheless, despite the increase, it equates to only ten percent of US students studying abroad. In addition, minorities are largely underrepresented. A report by NAFSA (National Association of Foreign Student Advisors) states that of the US students abroad in 2012/2013, 76.3% were Caucasian, 7.6% were Hispanic/Latino American, 7.3% were Asian/Pacific Islander, 5.3% were African American/Black, three percent were multiracial, and American Indians/Alaska natives made up less than one percent.
The issue this has created in the United States is that as the job market for new graduates becomes increasingly competitive, it becomes more necessary for students to have something on their resume to make them stand out. With such a small percentage of students doing a semester or a year outside the US, the opportunity becomes a valuable asset. Many students at top tier 4 universities have the chance to enroll in these programs through their colleges and most universities not only accept but encourage students from other universities to enroll in their foreign programs for a semester.
But the high cost of these programs makes them an unrealistic dream for many students. The average program costs $31,270 for one semester, which is double the cost of a semester at most private colleges. For example, NYU, who offers more than 15 campuses across the world for their study abroad programs as well as two full campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai, quotes the required expenses for a semester abroad as ranging between $28,233 – $33,344 for tuition and lodging, and advises students to expect addition expenses of $5,950 – $6,850 for meals, airfare—not for travelling while abroad, just for the cost of getting to the campus, local transportation, and miscellaneous expenses. At the high end, this can add up to $40,000 for the semester for some students, a figure made more daunting by the difficulty students will face in trying to find jobs overseas for the semester.
It seems clear that studying abroad is not a realistic expectation for most students. Not only can it be extremely expensive, it is often hard to get credits to transfer, to find jobs abroad, and to get a visa. In a job market that strongly encourages even the strongest candidates to distinguish themselves from the pack in any way possible, being part of the ten percent of student who can talk about their experience abroad is definitely an advantage. But it remains to be seen, as the numbers are already showing, how much that will give an advantage to those who are already more fortunate, as well as how it will affect future employment statistics as students from lower-income families find it harder and harder to access an opportunity that other students take for granted.