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Foreign Students Offer Lifeline to Cash-Strapped U.S. State Schools

Amid funding shortages, American colleges are turning to international recruits for cash
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Photographer: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

As U.S. state schools face lingering funding challenges brought on by the 2007-2009 recession, they're turning to a growing pool of full-tuition-paying students from abroad to replenish their coffers, according to a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research that calculates a strong link between changes in state appropriations and foreign enrollment at U.S. public colleges.

The number of international students at American colleges and universities rose to 1.04 million last year, up 7.1 percent from the previous year and 85 percent over the past decade, according to data from the Institute of International Education. Foreign students accounted for 5.2 percent of the total student population at U.S. institutions last year, compared with 3.2 percent 10 years ago. China, where a limited supply of resource-rich schools are struggling to keep up with growing demand for higher education amid economic growth, remained the leading country of origin for the seventh consecutive year, followed by India and Saudi Arabia.

The rising demand from abroad has helped keep U.S. public colleges — where out-of-state tuition is often double or triple the in-state amount — afloat as they grapple with continued recession-induced funding shortages.