When Singaporean Li Fanglan was shopping for a graduate teaching program abroad, she ended up dismissing US colleges in favor of Curtain University in Perth, Australia, known as "the seventh suburb of Singapore."
"I'd [have] liked to go to the US," Ms. Li says. "But it cost too much."
It's a refrain American schools may be hearing more and more thanks to stiff competition from other English-speaking countries and the ongoing economic crises in Asia (a region that accounts for almost 60 percent of the foreigners studying in the United States).
This could cost the US its lion's share of the lucrative international student market, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE), a New York-based nonprofit group.
The last school year marked nearly a decade of flat growth, with the number of international students in the US increasing just 0.9 percent. That's compared with the study's "glory years" between 1975 and 1980, when enrollments doubled to 300,000. "That doesn't mean that we don't still have an enormous number of foreign students," says IIE's Peggy Blumenthal. "America still receives by far the most foreign students [about 458,000]."
But international students are increasingly choosing other countries over the US, a recent IIE study found. Those students, most of whom pay full tuition, mean big bucks for the economy. Each year, foreign students generate more than $7 billion, making them America's fifth-largest export earner, according to IIE.
In addition to the financial benefits, educators in the US and elsewhere cite intangibles foreign students bring to the classroom. "They internationalize the curriculum," says Karen Shanks, international director at Curtain University, where 15 percent of the school's 24,000 students hail from abroad. Australians, for example, "feel more a part of the Southeast Asian community than in the 1950s."