Internationalization & U.S. Universities

This section of the Global Diversity in the Classroom guide introduces you to recent data and scholarship regarding international student mobility and the internationalization of higher education.

Understanding Internationalization

"Internationalization" is often understood as increasing involvement in international issues, and in the higher education sector it occurs through three essential activities: international student enrollments, domestic student study abroad/study away and visiting international scholar hosting.

Each of these three activities enables the modern university to achieve a global reach that can have profound positive impacts for both the students at the home campus and the international communities with which the college is engaging.

The Benefits of Diversity

While the recruitment of international students has often served as an economic boon for North American colleges and universities during times of increased budgetary uncertainty, these students also add significantly to the diversity of thought, experiences and languages on the college campus, which in turn can enrich life for the domestic students.

The added benefits of international student recruitment and visiting scholar hosting cannot be understated, as most domestic students may never study abroad, these two populations create space for domestic students to gain intercultural awareness and communicative competence.

During the 2017-18 academic year, over 890,000 international students from across the globe came to study at American universities, with the majority of these students choosing institutions that housed centers for advanced graduate study. For the 2017-18 academic year, the majority of the international students in the U.S. came from China, India, Saudi Arabia and Canada; and, most were completing either undergraduate or master's level study. It is important to bear in mind that the majority of these students are self-funded, with the Institute of International Education reporting that over 80% of international students were pulling on family-based funding sources. These students also bring great economic opportunity to the United States, contributing over $39 billion to the national economy every year.

International visiting scholars also enrich the diversity of U.S. colleges and universities by adding to research programs, joining graduate seminars and assisting in teaching or guest lecturing. These visiting scholars come from across the globe, with many coming from China, India, South Korea, Germany and Canada. While the vast majority come from STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) backgrounds, they represent all disciplines of the modern academy — from social sciences to communications. Moreover, they add significantly to the experiences of both international students studying in the U.S. and our domestic student population.

More Research to Explore


Faculty Resources: Global Diversity in the Classroom