The number of Americans studying overseas increased dramatically last year to more than 100,000, and the United Kingdom continued to attract most of them.
But increasing competition from non-traditional destinations also siphoned many United States students to Australia, China, Mexico and Costa Rica, according to a government-funded survey.
Traditionally reluctant to study overseas, American students have changed their attitudes as they prepare to compete internationally. Students planning careers in such fields as business and management, for example, are increasingly taking courses outside the US, second only to humanities and social science majors.
That upward trend has helped to nearly double the number of Americans who study abroad in just a decade. Last year, the number of American students overseas climbed more than 11 per cent, to a record 99,448.
"In today's global marketplace, study abroad is an indispensable route to achieving the in-depth understanding of other societies and cultures that is required for future world leadership," said Allan Goodman, head of the New York-based Institute of International Education, which conducted the survey.
It works both ways. The number of foreign students studying in the United States last year rose by more than 5 per cent, the biggest increase since 1990.
The survey covered a period before the Asian economic crisis took hold, and with it an expected decrease in the number of Asians studying at US universities and colleges. That, and competition from such countries as Australia, had American officials grimly warning that the good news might not last.
"The United States may be losing its competitive edge in international education," said Keith Geiger, director of academic programmes at the United States Information Agency, which paid for the report.
From 1995 to 1997, the US share of all international students dropped from 32 to 30 per cent, down from 40 per cent in the 1980s. Today, 481,280 foreign scholars study in America - more than half of them Asians. The top countries of origin are Japan, China, South Korea, India and Taiwan.
The biggest single destination for Americans studying abroad continued to be the UK, with 22,787 students - an increase of 13 per cent over the previous year.
This was followed at a distance by Italy, France and Spain. The number of American students taking courses in Australia went up 17 per cent, in China 17 per cent, in Costa Rica 14 per cent and in Mexico 10 per cent.