The number of Chinese students studying in the United States surged 30 percent in the 2009-10 academic year, making China, for the first time, the top country of origin for international students, according to “Open Doors,” the Institute of International Education’s annual report.
The report found that a record high of 690,923 international students came to the United States last year — nearly 128,000 of them, or more than 18 percent, from China. Over all, the number of international students at colleges and universities in the United States increased 3 percent for the 2009-10 academic year.
India, which in recent years had been in the top spot, increased its numbers only slightly, to 104,897 last academic year.
“The number of students from China is booming, because of that booming Chinese economy,” said Peggy Blumenthal, executive vice president of the institute. “But India, which also has a booming economy, is only up 1.6 percent. I think one factor is the great number of Chinese families with disposable income, two working parents and only one child, and a determination to invest their money to make sure that child receives the best education possible.”
David B. Austell, director of the Office for International Students and Scholars at New York University, said the Chinese undergraduates came primarily from the large urban areas on China’s coast. Because they are not eligible for the same financial aid as Americans and usually pay full tuition, he said, their growing presence is an indicator of just how many Chinese families are financially strong.
At the University of Southern California, Tony Tambascia, executive director of the Office of International Services, said the number of Chinese students grew substantially last year, but surpassed the number of Indian students for the first time just this fall.
“We’re getting more Chinese master’s students, and dramatically more freshmen,” he said.
According to the report, which is supported by the State Department, the number of students coming to the United States from Saudi Arabia increased almost 25 percent last year, to 15,810, reflecting the Saudi government’s generous aid for studies abroad.
But not all countries sent more students to the United States last year. The number coming from Japan declined 15 percent, and Mexico, Indonesia and Kenya each sent 7 percent to 9 percent fewer students than in the previous year.
Still, Allan Goodman, president of the institute, said the United States continued to host more international students than any other country. And according to the Commerce Department, such students contribute nearly $20 billion to the economy.
While the majority of Chinese students in the United States are still graduate students, the recent growth has been strongest among undergraduates.
Last year, there were 39,921 Chinese undergraduates studying in the United States, a 50 percent increase from the previous year, and more than four times as many as five years earlier.
The Indian experience has been quite different; that country sent 15,192 undergraduates last year, fewer than five years earlier. And the number of Indians coming to the United States for graduate study dropped by almost 4 percent last year
“The educational-advising people say that the job market is so hot in places like Mumbai and Bangalore that students thinking about grad school decide it’s not worth it,” Ms. Blumenthal said, “since they can just go out and get a good engineering job.”
As in past years, the report found that California, with 94,279 international students, hosts far more students from abroad than any other state. The University of Southern California is the institution with the most international students, 7,987 last year.
The report also tracks Americans studying abroad, although those numbers come from a year earlier. In the 2008-9 academic year, 260,327 American students studied abroad, down slightly from 262,416 the previous year.
While Britain, Italy, Spain and France remain the leading destinations, the study found, all four hosted fewer students, with the declines ranging from 2.5 percent to 10.8 percent.
But nontraditional destinations outside Europe gained popularity. Chile, Peru and South Korea all had increases of more than 26 percent, and China, Australia, Costa Rica, Japan, Argentina, South Africa, Ecuador, Brazil and New Zealand all hosted more American students than in the previous year.
A version of this article, authored by TAMAR LEWIN, appeared in print on November 15, 2010, on page A14 of the New York edition.