Open Doors Analysis: Study Abroad Trends and Partners

On Nov. 14, members of Partners’ Higher Education team had the pleasure of attending the 2016 Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange (Open Doors) briefing at the National Press Club. Presented by the Institute of International Education, with support from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Open Doors is a comprehensive data resource that examines trends in international students and scholars studying or teaching at higher education institutions in the United States, as well as U.S. higher education students who are studying abroad for academic credit through their home university or college.

The data presented at this year’s Open Doors briefing serves as a testament to the efforts of Partners’ 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund to increase cultural exchanges across the Western Hemisphere such as the advances in creating or expanding study abroad opportunities in Colombia and Cuba. According to Open Doors, the country with the fastest growth of international students studying abroad at U.S. institutions from Latin America was Colombia, with a 9 percent growth rate from the previous year.

In terms of fields of study, study abroad in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) continues to grow globally. STEM made up 23.9 percent of the total U.S. study abroad population from 2014-2015, the highest of any field of study. In return, STEM made up 46.1 percent of the total international population studying in the U.S. from 2015-2016.

100,000 Strong in the Americas and its supporters continue to push for study abroad partnerships in STEM. The ExxonMobil Foundation is currently sponsoring its second grant competition to build STEM partnerships between Latin America and the U.S.  In a past ExxonMobil-sponsored round, the collaboration between the University of Texas at El Paso and Universidad de Guadalajara in Mexico exposed students to become better “smart city” enablers and support environmental sustainability. A program formed between University of Massachusetts-Boston and Universidade Tiradentes in Brazil formed to develop costal systems in both Brazil and the US. The University of New Mexico, a Santander-sponsored grant winner, created the Innovation Academy for Women, which builds women leaders in STEM. These sustainable gains are a result of the partnerships and institutional grant strategies which Partners of the Americas seeks to advance.

Additionally, Open Doors data shows a 7.1 percent increase in the number of international students in the United States from 2014/15 to 2015/16, topping a total of over one million international students, with 60 percent of international students coming from China, India, Saudi Arabia and South Korea. This information reflects an increased demand for international students to study in the United States, but this demand does not seem to be reflected as strongly amongst international students from Latin America.

Students from Latin America studying in the United States decreased by 1.7 percent from 2014/15 to 2015/16. This is a result of several factors. One example is the 75 percent decrease in large scholarship programs in Brazil. Despite this, there was a 2 percent increase in U.S. students studying in Latin America from 203/14 to 2014/15. Currently, 16 percent of U.S. study abroad students choose programs in Latin America and the data reflects a major interest in non-credit study abroad opportunities such as internships and volunteering, where the top three host destinations were Mexico, Nicaragua and Dominican Republic.

The Open Doors report is a call to action to empower Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to form partnerships and build programs between the United States and Latin America to increase alliances and cultural exchanges in the region and allow for more cross-cultural learning for students of all backgrounds. In an increasing global society, forging relationships and encouraging communication between students and educators from different backgrounds and cultures is advantageous for all.

Areas of Strength:

  • • The largest growth was seen in the STEM field with 9.1 percent growth
  • • Over 1 million international students studied in U.S. colleges and universities in 2014/15
  • • Non-credit education abroad (internships/volunteering/non-credit work) top three hosts are Mexico, Nicaragua and Dominican Republic
  • • Large increase of Cuban students coming to U.S. (62.8 percent increase, 153 students)
  • • Large increase in U.S. students going to Cuba (29.2 percent increase,- 2,384 students)

Areas of Need:

  • • Less students are coming from Latin America to the United States than from other locations (32 percent from China, 16 percent from India)
  • • Students from Latin America studying in United States decreased by 1.7 percent from 2014/15 to 2015/16
  • • Less U.S. students are studying abroad in Latin America (16 percent) than in other destinations such as Europe (55 percent)
  • • 1 in 10 undergraduates studies abroad before graduating
  • • Proportion of minorities studying abroad is increasing modestly, but could benefit from more attention (27 percent)