From 1987–88 to 2007–08, the number of U.S. students studying abroad quadrupled, rising from 62,300 to 262,400 students.
The number of U.S. students who study abroad has grown steadily over the past 20 years, increasing from 62,300 students in 1987–88 to 114,000 students in 1997–98 and reaching 262,400 students in 2007–08 (see table A-40-1). The study abroad participation rate of students seeking a bachelor's degree has also increased during this period: it is estimated that in 2007–08, some 15 out of every 100 students in a bachelor's degree program had studied abroad, compared with 9 out of every 100 students in 1997–98 and 5 out of every 100 students in 1987–88 (data not shown). The U.S. study abroad population is composed of undergraduate and graduate students who are enrolled in a degree program at an accredited higher education institution in the United States and who receive academic credit from that institution for their study abroad participation. The duration of study abroad programs ranges from a summer or one-month January term to a full calendar year. Of those students who studied abroad for any duration during the 2007–08 academic year, the greatest percentage were in their junior year of undergraduate education (36 percent) (see Open Doors 2009).
The geographic distribution of U.S. students studying abroad has shifted in the last two decades. In 2007–08, some 56 percent (147,700 students) of all U.S. study abroad students studied in Europe, compared with 64 percent (72,600 students) who did so in 1997–98 and 75 percent (47,000 students) in 1987–88 (see table A-40-1). Although the number of U.S. students studying abroad has increased in all regions, a greater percentage of those students have chosen to study in non-European regions, including Latin America, Asia, Oceania, Africa, or in multiple destinations. After Europe, Latin America had the greatest percentage of American students (15 percent) in 2007–08, followed by Asia (11 percent), and Oceania and Africa (both 5 percent). Two decades earlier, Latin America hosted 9 percent, Asia hosted 6 percent and Oceania and Africa both hosted 1 percent of U.S. study abroad students. From 1987–88 to 2007–08, the percentage of U.S. students studying abroad in multiple destinations increased from 1 to 6 percent. Between 1987–88 and 2007–08, the Middle East was the only other host region besides Europe to have a decrease in the percentage of students studying abroad. In 1987–88, some 5 percent of students studying abroad (2,900 students) were in the Middle East, compared with 2 percent (2,200 students) in 1997–98 and 1 percent (3,400 students) in 2007–08.
The top five destination countries for U.S. study abroad students in 2007–08 were the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, and China (see table A-40-2), accounting for 46 percent of all U.S. students studying abroad in that year. The top 25 destination countries all encountered increases in the number of students studying abroad from 1987–88 to 2007–08. Only three of those countries, Argentina, Brazil, and New Zealand, were not among the top 25 destinations in 1997–98.
Social sciences, business and management, and humanities were the top three fields of study among U.S. study abroad students in 2007–08; some 55 percent of U.S. study abroad students majored in one of those fields that year (see table A-40-3). Although the number of students studying abroad from all academic backgrounds has increased from 1987–88, the greatest percentage of students in 2007–08 majored in social sciences (22 percent), a percentage that has remained steady since 2002–03. Twenty percent of U.S. study abroad students majored in business and management in 2007–08, up from 11 percent in 1987–88 and 16 percent in 1997–98. The percentage of U.S. study abroad students who majored in foreign languages has experienced the largest decline in the last 20 years, from 15 percent in 1987–88 to 8 percent in 1997–98 and down to 6 percent in 2007–08.
The U.S. study abroad population includes citizens and permanent residents; it does not include students who study abroad without receiving academic credit or U.S. students who are enrolled in a degree program overseas. For more information on the Open Doors U.S. Study Abroad Survey, the calculation of the study abroad participation rate of students seeking a bachelor's degree, and information on the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), see supplemental note 3.
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