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That, along with other efforts by the government and the universities, has opened the international floodgates and dramatically raised the number of students leaving home for American colleges.

Rising numbers

In the 2010-11 school year, the number of foreign students in U.S. schools shot up to 723,277, an increase of 5 percent from the previous year, Institute of International Education reported. It has increased each of the past five years, and has risen 32 percent over the past decade.

The institute’s data also highlight the fact that foreign students aren’t coming just from nations with close ties and warm relationships with the U.S.

Chinese students accounted for much of the recent growth, with the total number from the burgeoning Asian power increasing by 23 percent overall and by 43 percent at the undergraduate level.

In the 2010-11 school year, 157,558 Chinese were studying at American schools, far more than from the No. 2 country, India, which had 103,895. Other nations with rocky relationships with the U.S. — Russia, Pakistan and Afghanistan, among others — also have sent their young people to the U.S.

Few countries, specialists say, bar students from attending top-notch American schools for political reasons, recognizing that the skills they gain in U.S. classrooms will be invaluable when they return home.

“I can’t see any regimes, other than maybe North Korea or Cuba, where there are limitations for people to go out and study wherever they want, even if there is animosity” between that nation’s government and the U.S., Mr. Balan said. “Very few times, [the animosity] becomes an insurmountable barrier to people who want to come study in the U.S.”