- International students are a boon to the U.S. economy and higher education institutions, but current anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies are deterring them from enrolling, according to a recent report from NAFSA: Association of International Educators.
- Colleges officials attribute the decline in enrollment among this group, which was down 6.6% in 2017-18, to changes in the visa application process, according to research cited by NAFSA.
- The U.S. is losing its share of international students and scholars to countries including Australia, Canada and China, which are drawing these individuals with more favorable policies and marketing strategies.
Beyond visa policies, the report notes other reasons college officials increasingly give for the decline in international students. They include the U.S. social and political environment, enrollment in other countries' institutions, tuition prices and concerns over physical safety, according to annual data from the State Department and the Institute of International Education cited by NAFSA.
For example, 83% of college officials said visa policies were to blame for enrollment declines in the fall of 2018, up from 34% who said the same in the fall of 2016. And the share of administrators citing the U.S. social and political environment increased from 15% to 60% over the course of those three years.
Other factors remained consistent. A little more than half credited the cost of tuition in 2016 (51%) and in 2018 (57%).
While U.S. immigration policy has received significant attention, NAFSA's report focuses equally on competition abroad. The number of students attending college outside of their home countries grew from 2.1 million in 2001 to 5 million today, explains the report, citing Project Atlas data. However, the share of international students in the U.S. dropped four percentage points during that time to 22% in 2018.
In a recent report, Moody's analysts warn that shifting immigration and trade policies and more investment by countries such as China and India are among the most serious challenges for U.S. higher ed. Tuition costs can also play a role and are made pricier by a strong U.S. dollar, Reuters noted.