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US colleges regain luster for foreigners

After a post-9/11 drop-off, the State Department has taken steps to ease foreigners' concerns.

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After being scared off in the post-9/11 years by tightened visa restrictions and America's soured image, foreign students are flocking back to the United States in record numbers.

At the same time, the number of American university students fitting in at least a semester abroad continues to climb: A still small but growing portion of the population sees overseas study more as a normal part of a college career than as an exotic exception.

Welcome to the era of globalized higher education.

"The growth in international students coming here is part of a trend of growing numbers of international students worldwide, but it's more than that," says Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education (IIE) in New York. "The State Department has made a real effort to change the perception that getting a student visa is impossible, but the underlying attraction is that nobody has the quantity and quality in higher education that we have," he adds. "It's one thing 'Made in USA' that everybody wants."

The number of foreign students in the US jumped by 7 percent to 623,805 between the 2006-07 and 07-08 academic years, according to the annual "Open Doors" report on international study released this week by the IIE. The previous high, which was 586,323 foreign students, was recorded in the 2002-03 academic year. The IIE also finds that the number of "new" or first-time enrollments of foreign students is growing faster.

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