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The number of international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities jumped last year in a big way. That number is up 10 percent to 975,000. This is from a new report backed by the State Department. China, by far, is still the largest source of students. India is second, and Indian students were a big reason for the overall jump. Cory Turner of the NPR Ed Team has one story behind the numbers.
CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Twenty-year-old Shreyas Manohar came to the U.S. last year from Nagpur, India, and he's already used to this.
SHREYAS MANOHAR: People don't know where Nagpur is, so I have to tell them it's near Mumbai. And they say, oh, yeah I know about it as if they actually do, but they don't.
TURNER: Manohar is a sophomore at Columbia University, and he has at least one thing in common with most of his fellow sophomores. He's not sure what he wants to do with his life.
MANOHAR: I'm majoring in creative writing, and I'm on the fence about econ.
TURNER: Either fiction writing or economics. He jokes it's a choice that every international student has to make.
MANOHAR: Whether he actually studies what he actually likes or whether he does something which is practical and which he can tell his parents that is redeemable for a job later.
TURNER: If Manohar ultimately chooses economics, he'll be in good company. One in 5 international students comes to the U.S. to study business and management. It's tied with the other top field, engineering. So why is the U.S. such a popular destination? Well, our higher-ed system has long been known for its quality, but that reputation has, in the last decade or so, moved beyond the Ivy League. And so have many international students.
ALLAN GOODMAN: They can get a great education at many institutions in all kinds of climates and settings here in America.
TURNER: Allan Goodman is president of the Institute of International Education, which released this new report. Goodman says there's another reason the U.S. is so attractive. In many places, a national exam determines students' future. One bad day, and their options narrow. So many look to the U.S., where, Goodman says...
GOODMAN: You still have an opportunity to take courses in college and pursue the career of your choice rather than the career that is chosen for you based on your exam results.
TURNER: Shreyas Manohar is exhibit A. He says India's exam-based system is a huge barrier, even for many good students.
MANOHAR: You have so much pressure to succeed in, and because of that, naturally, many people don't do as well as they normally should have.
TURNER: But being able to attend Columbia University comes with a steep price. Manohar, like many international students, is paying for school without financial aid.
MANOHAR: Even though that's very tough for my family and my family has to go through a lot.
TURNER: The Department of Commerce reports that international students contributed nearly $31 billion to the U.S. economy in the last school year. As for Manohar, he says he figured out the net benefit of earning a degree at Columbia. And it will pay off, he says, unless he chooses creative writing over economics. That could take a little longer. Cory Turner, NPR News, Washington.
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