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US colleges, especially in Midwest, see record number of foreign students

Foreign students contribute nearly $23 billion annually to the US economy, according to the annual Open Doors Report on trends in international college education.

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Neal White (l.), from Illinois, and Miguel Coca, from Spain, go over some sheet music outside the Berklee College of Music in 2005. A recent rise in foreign students attending US colleges has contributed billions to the US economy.

John Nordell/The Christian Science Monitor

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When it comes to foreign students, most college officials prefer to emphasize the international flavor and cultural enrichment that they bring to America’s schools.

But in an era of generally falling public funding for universities, there’s no denying the economic benefits of America’s booming foreign-student population.

In its annual Open Doors Report on trends in international college education, the Institute of International Education (IIE) cites the Commerce Department in claiming that foreign students – who came to the United States in record numbers in 2011 – contribute nearly $23 billion annually to the US economy.

And state officials from California to Indiana acknowledge that, with state legislatures cutting back on university budgets, in-state tuitions would be rising even faster if not for the fast-growing number of foreigners on America’s campuses.

How fast? Foreign enrollment was up almost 6 percent last year, to 764,495 – a nearly one-third jump over the past decade. Last year marked the sixth year in a row of increases in foreign students in the US, after several years of decline in the years just after 9/11.

Where do the foreign students come from? China sends the most, at 158,000, followed by India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Canada. Saudi Arabia, with a 50 percent jump over the previous year, had the largest increase, thanks to a substantial new government scholarship program.

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