Illinois fifth in nation for drawing international students

Illinois fifth in nation for drawing international students

URBANA — International enrollment at American universities topped the 1 million mark for the first time last year and now makes up 5 percent of the U.S. college student population, a new report says.

The University of Illinois again ranked fifth and was second only to Arizona State University among public universities, according to the 2016 “Open Doors” report from the Institute of International Education. The report, compiled with the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, was to be released Monday.

“We’re very proud of that,” said Veerle Opgenhaffen, director for global communication and protocol for Illinois International. “We know that we are a global destination.”

The United States has seen huge growth in international enrollment in the last decade, fueled in part by a surge of Chinese students looking to study abroad as that country’s economy expanded.

The UI was credited with 12,085 international students by Open Doors, though it only had 10, 547 enrolled (5,450 undergraduates and 5,097 graduate students), UI officials said. The other 1,970 have received degrees and are pursuing post-graduate employment but are still counted because their student visas haven't expired.

Open Doors also reports that more than 313,000 U.S. students received credit for studying abroad during 2014-15, up 3 percent. The UI ranked 15th, with 2,193 students.

That ranking is likely to go up, as the UI continued to see growth in study-abroad numbers last school year, Opgenhaffen said.

The UI has placed a strong emphasis on “global competence,” not only by attracting international students but encouraging students to go abroad and faculty to engage with colleagues around the world, said Reitumetse Mabokela, vice provost for international affairs and global strategies.

“It’s not just, ‘Hey, we have a lot of students from China,’ which we do,” Opgenhaffen said. “It’s across the whole spectrum of what it means to be a truly international university.”

Over the next year, the UI will be drawing up plans to diversify its international student population, Mabokela said.

Like many other universities, the majority of the UI’s international students are from China; the university’s relationship with that country dates back more than a century. After that, India and South Korea send the most students to the UI.

The UI operates an office in Shanghai, to help students before and after they come to the UI. It had planned to open a second global office in India this year, but the state budget crisis put that effort on hold.

Mabokela said it’s “premature” to say which areas of the world the UI will focus on. An advisory committee will come up with a strategy and think about “where we would like to target,” Mabokela said.

“We’re really trying to broaden our reach here just beyond China,” said Mabokela, a native of South Africa who was hired in 2015 and holds two degrees from the UI.

She said the campus doesn’t want to increase its international student population, so that would likely mean fewer students from China.

“We value students here from China. We’re not going to suddenly leave Asia and stop engaging in that region of the world,” she said. “We want to make sure we broaden the base from which we draw.”

In an ideal world, Opgenhaffen said, the UI would have offices around the globe, in Africa, Europe and South America as well, as many of its peer universities do, she said.

The UI is studying “up and coming” economies, such as South Africa, Nigeria, Brazil and Saudi Arabia, she said.

International education and “global competence” are vital for students’ success, Mabokela said.

“Not only is it important for our student body to engage with students from a variety of countries,” she said, but it’s important for international students to have a broad cultural exposure.

In a global marketplace, students who have lived in a different culture, been exposed to different perspectives or learned a second language have a huge advantage over others competing for the same opportunities, Opgenhaffen said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to further define the UI's international student totals.


Top 10
The UI held its No. 5 position among U.S. universities for international enrollment in 2015-16. Seven other Big Ten schools made the top 25, but only Purdue (No. 8) cracked the top 10. The list, with previous rank in parantheses, 2015-16 numbers and percent increase:

New York U (1)

USC (2)

Arizona State (4)

Columbia (3)

Illinois (5)*

Northeastern (6)

UCLA (8)

Purdue (7)

Boston (11)

Washington (10)

*Note: The report counts students who have graduated but still hold valid student visas; the UI's total of enrolled international students in 2015-16 was 10,547.

Around the world
Highlights of the annual 2016 “Open Doors” report:
➜ More than 1.04 million students from around the globe studied at U.S. universities in 2015-16, up 7.1 percent from the 974,926 the year before.

➜ More than a third of international students studied engineering, math or computer science.

➜ The top country of origin? China, with 328,547 students. India still exports the second-most students to the U.S. (165,918), but Saudi Arabia (61,287) slipped ahead of former No. 2 South Korea on the list (61,007, a drop of 2.2 percent).

➜ Michigan State dropped to No. 11 on the list, losing its No. 9 spot to Boston University. Other Big Ten schools in the top 25: Penn State (13), Michigan (14), Indiana (17), Ohio State (18), Minnesota (20) and Wisconsin (24).

➜ New York University also topped the study-abroad list, sending 4,310 students to study in other countries. Michigan was the highest-ranked Big Ten school at No. 5 (2,714).

➜ The top destination nationally for the 313,415 study-abroad students was the United Kingdom, followed by Italy, Spain, France and China.


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Local Yocal wrote on November 14, 2016 at 7:11 am
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"She said the campus doesn’t want to increase its international student population, so that would likely mean fewer students from China."

The new real estate landlords who have built all this "luxury, high rise" apartments for $1,200 a month per unit, do not want to hear that. 

99characters wrote on November 14, 2016 at 10:11 am

Just want to know if the influx of International students from China reduce the number/percentage of Asian American students entering UI, especially from Illinois. Any stats or figures?

C in Champaign wrote on November 14, 2016 at 2:11 pm

You might find the information here: 

wayward wrote on November 14, 2016 at 5:11 pm

Probably a good idea for UI to diversify in terms of foreign students -- the numbers from China could dwindle.

Reykjavik wrote on November 14, 2016 at 7:11 pm

Nice to see such a large number of international students, who have so enriched this community with their customs, food, and academic excellence (not to mention their money).. It would be nice to see more balance internationally however.  

JimOATSfan wrote on November 15, 2016 at 4:11 pm

Unsaid is that kids from Illinois do not get admitted, when 10,000+ places go to higher paying foreign students. Doesn't the original charter mission for the University speak to educating the children of Illinois?

Cheers to us all.