×

Foreign students flocking to the US

Nepalese college students hanging out on the The Main Quad on a Friday afternoon at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Marvin Joseph | The Washington Post | Getty Images
Nepalese college students hanging out on the The Main Quad on a Friday afternoon at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Higher education has become one of America's fastest-growing exports.

The number of foreign exchange students studying at U.S. colleges and universities is at a record high, with nearly one-third coming from China, according to the latest data.

Close to 900,000 international students studied in the U.S. during the 2013-14 school year, up 8 percent from the previous year, according to an annual survey by the Institute of International Education. The group partners with the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to collect the data.

Of the world's 4.5 million higher education students who study abroad, the U.S. hosts more than any other country. But just slightly more than 4 percent of all U.S. undergraduate and graduate students are international students.

Of those who come to the U.S. to study, engineering, math and science are the most popular fields of study.

Read MoreCollege prices continue to creep up

Thanks to a burgeoning middle class and high regard for American colleges and universities, China sends the most students of any country—nearly 275,000 in the latest school year, up 17 percent from the year before. Other top countries of origin were India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Canada.

Kuwait, Brazil and Saudi Arabia were also among the countries that have seen double-digit gains in the percentage of students coming to the United States to study. Government-funded scholarships helped contribute to the growth.

A record number of Americans—about 289,400—studied abroad in 2012-13, the most recent data available, up 2 percent from the previous year. American students tend to study overseas for shorter periods, and there are far fewer Americans studying abroad than foreign students who come to the U.S. Overall, fewer than 10 percent of American students study abroad during their college years.

For American students, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France and China were the leading destinations.