Exchange Students: The Statistics

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The CSIET (Council on Standards for International Education Travel) is a not-for-profit organization that identifies reputable international youth exchange programs. They also help promote the importance and educational value of international youth exchange, as well as provide leadership and support to the communities involved with exchange and education. They release annual reports on the statistics of both inbound (international students coming to the US) and outbound (American students going abroad) exchange students.

Now, we’re talking about high-school students here. Not college students – that’s not governed or tracked by the CSIET. There are currently 60 programs on the CSIET Advisory List that have a “full” listing status, which means they are fully reputable organizations that either send US students abroad or host international students in the US.

Well, here are a handful of the statistics for the year 2009-2010.

  • The top 5 countries that American students study abroad to are:  1. Germany  2. France  3. Italy  4. Spain  5. Japan
  • California was the state sending the highest number of students abroad: 200.
  • The majority of American students going abroad on exchange are from Western states (CA, OR, WA, AZ, CO, UT, NV, MT, ID)
  • The total number of American students sent on exchange for either a school year or semester: 1,980. This is the lowest number of American high-school exchange students in the last seven years. Not counted in this statistic are the many summer programs offered to American high-school students.

Now contrast our total number of students going abroad with the total number of international students who came to the US: 28,142. Again, this is high-school. The majority of international students who come to the US during their high school career do not have that year counted; it is a lost year academically for them. And yet they come.

According to the latest statistics, the majority of those 28,142 students are hosted in the Midwest region of the US (MI, WI, IL, MN, OH, IN, IA), mainly Minnesota and Michigan.

These statistics prompt questions, at least for me.

Why would 28,000+ students from all over the world come to the US for a year of high school when that year does not give them any academic scores? Why do the majority of Americans who go on exchange come from the Western states, mainly California? Why are the main countries where Americans go on exchange mainly in Europe?

I have no proven answers, but I have my own conjectures and theories.

Why would 28,000+ students from all over the world come to the US for a year of high school when that year does not give them any academic scores?

Many of the international exchange students who I meet are very excited to live in another country. American culture has been broadcast out to them through a variety of mediums, from television series to rock bands and pop stars to snack foods and fast food chains. They see America all the time. Or do they? They’re pretty sure American life is not like that. And they want to see for themselves. They want to experience what it means to be American.

Why do the majority of Americans who go on exchange come from the Western states, mainly California?

California is one of the most populous states in the country. There were 2,013,687 students enrolled in a CA high school for the year 2008-2009. But this begs another question. If there were so many millions of students in a CA high school that year, why is it that only a couple hundred of them went on exchange? From my experience living in CA, many of the students I have asked why they want to go abroad, their reasons vary. Some say it’s because they know someone who has gone abroad. Others had someone from a CSIET-identified program come to their school and give a presentation. Perhaps there is very little penetration of exchange programs into California high schools. As stated above, the majority of international students are hosted in the Midwest. Students in Midwest high schools have a higher chance of coming in contact with an international student, perhaps prompting them to think about going abroad themselves.

Why are the main countries where Americans go on exchange mainly in Europe?

Europe has always been closely attached to our own culture. European history is widely taught at both the high school and university level. European languages are taught in high schools, mostly French and Spanish. It would make sense then that the countries Americans want to learn more about are France and Spain. It just so happens that Germany, since World War Two, has made incredible strides in opening itself up to other countries. The country’s immigration levels have increased dramatically in the last four decades. It is literally mind-boggling the amount of study abroad or work abroad opportunities Germans have as high-school or college students. In Germany, high school students are encouraged to study abroad, perhaps unlike their American counterparts.

Another question that arises from these statistics, and a worrisome statistic at that — Why is the total number of American high-school students going on exchange (for a year or semester) decreasing? A few possibilities could include the rise of summer programs (which might not require a visa), or the bad PR some programs have had recently (remember the American boy who was ‘starving in Egypt’?), or even some state high school graduation requirements (causing students not to leave their academics behind for a year, as many programs do not guarantee the year will count). The number is the lowest in the last 7 years, but the number has hovered around 2,000 continuously over the last decade. The current economy might not be a major factor in the decision to send a son or daughter abroad. The fees for exchange programs has not risen dramatically. Perhaps a major drawback is that exchange programs do cost money. Families may not see the value of paying extra for their son or daughter to go to school in another country, especially when that year might not be counted towards their high school graduation.

The solution? Well, one of them anyway, could be the increase of scholarship money for year-long and semester-long exchange programs.

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