About the Author: Goli Ameri serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs.
As someone who graduated from an American university as an international student, I can personally attest that America’s universities welcome international students, but beyond that they truly transform their lives. My education here taught me many valuable life lessons. I learned the value of freedom and democracy, the fundamentals of critical thinking, the questioning of ideas and a profound sense of empowerment. I learned that in America there are no constraints to one’s desire to achieve. My personal story of expanding horizons and opportunities is special to me, but it is not unique, nor is it new. I am willing to bet that the majority of students who have participated in international exchange programs would say that it has changed their lives.
The State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, or ECA, sponsors educational exchange programs that seek to increase mutual understanding and respect between the people of the United States and people from other countries. We are proud of the fact that international student enrollment in U.S. colleges and universities is now at a record high, to almost 624,000, and new student enrollment rose by 10 percent in academic year 2007-2008. And more Americans than ever are studying abroad, in fact, nearly a quarter of a million (241,791) in the 2006-2007 academic year, and up by more than 150 percent during the past decade.
These numbers testify to the vitality, diversity and quality of U.S. colleges and universities, and make clear that America's doors are open to students from around the world. They also show that U.S. students recognize that our world is increasingly inter-dependent, and firsthand experience learning about other countries and cultures will benefit them as they pursue career paths and develop job skills. In my travels overseas, where I have met with students from many countries, I know that young people around the world have a common interest in getting a good education and developing the skills they need to pursue rewarding careers.
The State Department, in cooperation with the U.S. higher education community, has been actively promoting this growth. For example, to help students in other countries learn about opportunities for an American education, we have enhanced our support for student advising centers, called “EducationUSA” centers, around the globe. We are also sending record numbers of Americans to study abroad through our educational exchange programs, such as the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarships for U.S. undergraduates with financial need and the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. And we are working to strengthen the diversity of our study abroad programs, including through outreach campaigns to community colleges and minority serving institutions.