A record number of students from around the world came to the U.S. to study last year. In all, the U.S. hosted 974,926 international students in the 2014-2015 school year – a 10 percent increase from the previous year, according to a report released today.
As in previous years, Asian nations were the top three countries of origin for U.S. international students. Chinese students alone made up 31 percent of all international students in the U.S., according to the 2015 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, an annual survey from the Institute of International Education in partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. India and South Korea rounded out the top three countries sending students to the U.S.
But the flow of international students from another region of the world stood out: Latin America and the Caribbean.
This region, which encompasses countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela, was the fastest-growing region of origin for international students in the U.S. in 2014-2015, according to the report.
The number of students from Latin America and the Caribbean increased more than 19 percent from last year, to reach 86,378, nearly 9 percent of international students in the U.S. This growth was in part fueled by exchange initiatives spearheaded by both the U.S. and several Latin American governments, says Rajika Bhandari, IIE’s deputy vice president for research and evaluation.
With these programs in place, the number of students from Latin America and the Caribbean coming to the U.S. to study for shorter periods is rapidly increasing. There were 18,173 nondegree students from the region in 2014-2015, a 116.5 percent jump from 2013-2014.
One such initiative is 100,000 Strong in the Americas, a public-private partnership. Backed by the U.S. Department of State, the grant program’s goal is to bring 100,000 students from elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere to the U.S. – and vice versa – by 2020.
One grant awarded through this initiative supported a short-term study abroad program run by North Carolina State University—Raleigh ‘s crop science department. A dozen undergraduates traveled to Costa Rica for 10 days in March as part of a course on agriculture and food security, which allowed students to see firsthand how connected the U.S. and Latin American countries are.
“When you travel to Central America and you spend time with local farmers there, you see that our fruit choices in the grocery store here are impacting their environment and their way of life there,” says Amber Beseli, a Ph.D. student in the crop science department at NC State who helped organize the Costa Rica program.
The Brazilian government also provides scholarships for science, technology, engineering and math students to study for a year at a U.S. college. The Brazil Scientific Mobility Program has grown from 615 participating students to nearly 13,000 over the past four school years.
Brazil was the No. 6 country of origin overall for international students in the U.S. in 2014-2015. The number of Brazilian students increased 78 percent from last year, to a total of 23,675.
The University of Nebraska—Lincoln is a popular destination for students participating in the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program. They include students such as Edwin Duarte, an engineering student at Universidade Tuiuti do Paraná in Brazil, who arrived at UNL in August. He lives on campus with a roommate from Omaha, and says he’s learned a lot about American culture in just a few months. “Everything is new,” he says. “Every single day you’ll learn something new.”
David Wilson, senior international officer and associate vice chancellor at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, says the presence of such “engaged and engaging” Brazilian students on campus over the past several years spurred the university to offer a Portuguese language program, increase study abroad opportunities to Latin America and create more partnerships with universities in the region.
“To make it more likely that the world can solve the problems that challenge us, we need kids who understand all corners of the world,” and not just Europe, he says.
This fall, the University of Nebraska—Lincoln welcomed 116 Brazilian students to campus, he says.
The Open Doors report also shows that Latin American and Caribbean countries are increasingly popular destinations for U.S. students seeking a global education experience. Second only to Europe, which hosted 53 percent of U.S. students who went abroad, the region welcomed more than 16 percent of all U.S. students studying abroad during the 2013-2014 school year, the most recent year for which data are available. Nearly 40 percent of the 22,181 students participating in non-credit work, internships and volunteering abroad did so in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Sydney Doe, a senior from Chicago studying biology with a minor in global health at Northwestern University, spent eight weeks over the summer studying public health in Cuba as part of a program supported by 100,000 Strong in the Americas.
“I think that Europe is pretty similar to the United States culturally and economically,” she says, so studying somewhere with more differences gives students more of an opportunity to grow. “They can expand their perspectives. I definitely did.”