College and university officials hope to see that trend continue. According to the 2012 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Admissions Directors, 35 percent of public four-year university admissions officials and 39 percent of private four-year college admissions officials strongly agreed that they planned to increase recruitment of international students.
In the same survey, 31 percent of admissions officials strongly agreed that they were very likely to increase recruitment of students who pay full price for their education.
College and university officials generally place a high premium on increasing campus diversity, including among international students, as a way of exposing students to a range of backgrounds and perspectives. But international students also generally pay full out-of-state tuition, making them a financial asset to institutions.
International students also have fewer resources to help them pay for college than Americans. Universities typically don't offer financial aid to international students. Most foreign citizens also aren't eligible for federal financial aid programs, such as Pell Grants and the federal Work-Study Program, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The department grants exceptions for some students, including permanent U.S. residents, refugees and anyone granted asylum in the United States.
George Qiao, a Chinese student at OSU, is enrolled in a cooperative program between OSU and his home institution, Sun Yat-sen University in the southeastern city of Guangzhou, China. He receives a merit-based scholarship for transfer students. That's the only financial aid he receives, he said.
Qiao, 21, said he chose to study in the United States knowing that he'd likely pay considerably more than other students at the university. Out-of-state students at OSU pay nearly four times as much in tuition per credit hour as students from Oklahoma.
“It's really up to us or our families,” he said.
At UCO, international students may apply for merit scholarships or work on campus to help pay for school, said Dennis Dunham, the university's executive director for international services. But when those students receive scholarships, they generally amount to $1,000 or less, he said, which doesn't go far to offset the roughly $20,000 they pay each year for tuition, books and room and board.
About 9 percent of UCO's students are international, Dunham said. That's a larger share than the national average, which stands at less than 4 percent. In many cases, Dunham said, students' families save money for their entire lives in the hopes of someday sending a son or daughter to an American university.
“Basically, our students are paying their way,” he said. “Sometimes, that is a way out for the whole family.”