While most of the world suffers bleak economic times, record numbers of foreign students are coming to the United States to study at colleges and universities. Visiting students provide an economic boost through tuition, professor salaries, books, furniture, rent, clothing, food, and services, all of which boost local economies. A record 671,616 foreign students came to study at American colleges and universities during the 2008-2009 academic year, spending nearly $18 billion across the country (according to reports from the Institute of International Education, and NAFSA, a nonprofit association the promotes international education.)

An all-time high of 671,616 foreign students studied in US colleges and universities in the 2008-09 academic year, according to the annual Open Doors report by the Institute of International Education (IIE). All told, those students spent nearly $18 billion across the US, according to a separate report also issued today by NAFSA, a nonprofit association promoting international education.

Together, the two reports paint a picture of a world of increasingly globalized education: foreigners prize an American college education more and more every year, and American students consider some amount of study abroad a requisite part of their education.

Among the reports' highlights:

• China was largely responsible for the year's 8 percent growth in foreign students in the US, sending nearly one-quarter more students than last academic year – or about 98,000. But unlike in the past, more of those Chinese students are undergraduates – not graduate students – as wealthy Chinese families pay for the international gold standard in education for their one child.

• Four countries increased their number of America-bound students by 20 percent or more: China, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam. Vietnam vaulted into the Top 10 with nearly 13,000 students in the US – a 46 percent jump over the previous year.

• Americans studying abroad rose by nearly 9 percent to 262,416. But more of those students are looking outside the semester-abroad destinations of their parents – often in Western Europe – for Asian studies in China, India, and Japan. South Africa and Argentina are also drawing growing numbers of Americans.

It is also interesting to now the role of the United States State Department in this process. The State Department provides scholarships to American academics to study in countries with critical languages such as Arabic, Hindi, and Urdu are spoken. The State Department also plays a large role in attracting foreign students to the United States. It has set up offices internationally where foreign students can go to learn about the opportunities in the United States, such as the difference between small and large campuses, or rural versus urban.
The top three destinations for foreign students remain California, New York, and Texas. As the qualitative and economic benefits of attracting foreign students keep getting noticed, more and more states will attempt to woo foreign students to their universities.