College students across the world are trading places. As more international students came to the United States for school last year, more Americans left to study abroad. Roughly 289,000 U.S. students attended school and received credit in foreign countries during the 2012-13 school year -- an increase of 2 percent from the year before, according to the Institute of International Education's Open Doors 2014 report. Their top destinations included the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain.
The U.K. experienced the most growth, taking in 12.5 percent more American students. Other countries that became popular with Americans included South Africa, which saw 17.6 percent more students than in 2011-12. Denmark saw 14.8 percent more and South Korea saw 12.9 percent more. American enrollment fell by 10.8 percent in Australia and 12.3 percent in Israel.
The most popular majors for American study abroad participants were in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. STEM students numbered 65,223 in 2012-13, a change of 8.8 percent from the year before, Open Doors data indicate. This was likely due to university support, senior counselor to the President Peggy Blumenthal told Inside Higher Ed. "The big difference we’ve seen over the past 15 years is that U.S. engineering schools, U.S. science departments are really pushing students to study abroad,” she said.
Overall, the data show study abroad was more widespread than ever. Program participation has doubled since 1998. In 2012-13, 35 American colleges sent more than 70 percent of their students abroad before graduation. On the flip side, the U.S. hosted a record 886,052 students in the 2013-14 school year -- an increase of 8 percent from the previous year.
But the Institute of International Education, a New York think tank centered around international exchange, was not satisfied.
“International experience is one of the most important components of a 21st century education, and study abroad should be viewed as an essential element of a college degree,” Allan Goodman, the organization's president, said in a news release. “Learning how to study and work with people from other countries and cultures also prepares future leaders to contribute to making the world a less dangerous place."