In 2004, only about 1,000 Saudis were studying in the U.S., according to the U.S. State Department. This past school year, Saudi Arabia sent 66,000 students to U.S. universities, four times the number before the 2001 attacks and the fastest-growing source of foreign students in the U.S., ahead of China, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
UPDATE: This just in: WABC Radio Report says the person alleged to be a suspect is here on a student visa
WSJ In the years following the security crackdown on Arab travelers after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks—in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi Arabian—tough restrictions kept most Arab students away from the U.S.
The Saudi influx is part of a broader increase in international students in the U.S. as American universities seek to raise tuition revenues. Some 723,277 foreign students enrolled during the 2010-2011 school year, up 32% from a decade ago.
To accommodate the new Saudi students, Central Washington administrators offered to provide halal food prepared in accordance with Islamic law, or set aside space on campus for a mosque. The Saudi students declined, preferring to eat at town cafes like everyone else, Mr. Launius said.
The Saudi contingent “doesn’t seem to have caused any kind of consternation and stir at all,” said Mr. Launius. “I think this is a good exposure to what these folks are actually like.”
King Abdullah was educated by clerics in a mosque, initiated the scholarship program after persuading U.S. officials, particularly President George W. Bush, to reopen the student visa service after 9/11. At a pivotal meeting in 2005 at the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, the King convinced Mr. Bush that the education program was crucial for the two countries’ long-term relationship.
In the U.S., closer Saudi ties still generate controversy. While public criticism of Saudi Arabia has generally been muted since 2005, some U.S. critics still focus on what they say are inadequately addressed questions about a possible Saudi government role in the Sept. 11 attacks. Others say the U.S. should have less to do with an ally accused by rights groups of mistreatment of religious minorities, dissidents and others.