Open Doors 2009: The Annual Report on International Education

Judith A. McHale
Under Secretary of State 
for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
National Press Club
Washington, DC
November 16, 2009

(as delivered)

Thank you, I am delighted to be here today to celebrate International Education Week.  And thank you, Peggy, for your kind introduction.  I’d like to thank your team at the Institute of International Education — a key partner for the State Department’s educational exchange programs.

I’d also like to thank Under Secretary Martha Kanter and the Department of Education. Our Departments work closely together as co-sponsors of International Education Week.  And I’d also like to acknowledge my team, Deputy Assistant Secretary Alina Romanowski and the staff of our Office of Global Educational Programs.

We are delighted to release Open Doors today, because we have very good news to share with all of you.  Hosting foreign students and scholars not only enriches the educational experience of the exchange participants, it helps to build lasting ties among peoples and nations.  That is why we are happy to report that for the 2008-2009 academic year, we have witnessed an 8% increase in the number of international students choosing to study in the United States.

The United States continues to be the number one choice of international students seeking education outside their home countries, and the trend lines this past year remain positive.

We have seen major, double-digit increases from several countries – for example:

  • The number of students coming from Vietnam increased 46%; and,
  • The number of students from China, Saudi Arabia, and Nepal all increased by more than 20%.

A very substantial increase in first-time enrollments -- 16% -- has helped to bring the total number of international students in the United States to an all-time high.  These numbers demonstrate the depth, diversity, and caliber of America’s higher education system, but we also recognize there is intense competition for these highly motivated students and scholars.

In recognition of that fact, we are today launching a newly redesigned website to make it even easier for international students to learn about study opportunities in the U.S., select appropriate institutions, and navigate the admissions process.  The site is  We will also continue to energetically use our EducationUSA advising centers around the world to help match international students with U.S. academic institutions.

Another encouraging finding of this year’s Open Doors report concerns Americans studying abroad.

Secretary Clinton has likened studying abroad to quote, “Spring training for this century. It helps you develop the fundamentals, the teamwork, and the determination to succeed.”  If that is the case – and I believe it is – then our training is going quite well.

For the 2007-2008 academic year, we witnessed an 8.5% increase in Americans studying abroad, compared to the previous academic year.  This brought us to another record high in the total number of U.S. students and scholars studying abroad.

And the breakdown of that increase is impressive in terms of geographical diversity:

  • The number of Americans participating in academic programs to Asia increased by 17%;
  • Those to Africa increased by 18%; and,
  • Those to Latin America increased by 11%.

We believe this type of growth is essential to helping our students understand, navigate, and thrive in a global economy.

That is why we continue to strongly support our flagship, the Fulbright Program, which is sending more U.S. students abroad than ever before, as well as our Gilman Scholarship Program, which has in the past two years doubled the number of undergraduates with financial need whom we are supporting for study abroad.

Over the past two years, in an effort to create more opportunities for study abroad in non-traditional destinations, we have given grants to more than 20 U.S. colleges and universities to enable them to identify new overseas partners and expand study abroad options for U.S. students.

Finally, I want to announce that this briefing kicks off our 10th annual International Education Week, which is cosponsored by the Departments of State and Education.  We invite and encourage you all to learn more about the hundreds of events we will be sponsoring around the world to highlight the benefits of international education. You can find the information at

Whether one is speaking of international students studying here in the United States or American students studying abroad, there is no question we have been setting records for international educational exchanges.

As the title of the report says, we have "Open Doors", and we will be working to open them even wider. 

I've been in my new position for about six months now and as I have traveled around the world, the one thing that struck me everywhere I've gone is even in countries were we have a very difficult situation, in terms of perceptions of the United States throughout the Middle East, in Pakistan and elsewhere, you find continued interest in people coming to the United States to study and learn more about our country. 

Personally, I believe there is no better way to improve our relations than by expanding these critical programs of our students studying overseas and more students coming to the United States which is why I am personally so committed to doing everything that we can do. 

At the moment we are doing a strategic review of all our programs and processes.  One of the things we were talking about last night was how can we further support your efforts in terms of student support exchanges around the world - supplying students with relevant information so that they can make really good choices and have a great experience.  Helping our students as they go overseas to have really meaningful experiences and building alumni networks that will continue to keep all of these great students engaged and working on the global challenges that face all of us today.

I met with a number of different groups and one of the things we want to do is to expand the number of students exchanging, but also increase the amount of information available about the broad variety of educational experiences available in the United States.  So I very much look forward to working with all of you in the weeks, months and years ahead as we continue with these terrific and very impactful programs that we have.  Thank you very much for your help.

Thank you for joining us today.