Survey: International enrollment in U.S. colleges is on the decline
The annual 2017 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange released today shows a 3 percent drop in the number of international students attending U.S. colleges for the 2016-17 school year, with a potential 7 percent drop in 2017-18.
A look at the numbers — the decline is only recent
Although the number of new students fell, the overall number of international students in the U.S. increased by about 3 percent from 2015-16, as students remain in the country to pursue practical training in their academic field after finishing a degree program. The results show the number of American students studying abroad went up by 4 percent year over year.
U.S. colleges and universities, for the second straight year, hosted a record high of 1.08 million international students in 2016-17. The number of new international students, however, fell by nearly 10,000 to about 291,000 last school year. This is the first decline since Open Doors has reported new enrollments.
The federal government estimates international students contribute about $39 billion a year to local economies.
“Countries and multinational employers around the world are competing to attract top talent,” said Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the Institute of International Education, a non-profit group sponsoring the report with the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. “As more countries become active hosts of international students and implement national strategies to attract them, the competition for top global talent in higher education and the workforce will only intensify.”
To learn about current trends — based on students who made the decision to apply and attend U.S. colleges in 2015 and were already attending class by the fall of 2016 — the Institute conducted a separate online enrollment survey in October with 10 education associations. Nearly 500 college and university officials reported the overall number of enrolled students was flattening, with an average decrease of 7 percent in the number of newly enrolled international students for 2017-18.
But the numbers were not evenly distributed: 45 percent of the campuses reported declines in new enrollments for fall 2017, while 31 percent saw jumps in enrollments and 24 percent reported no change from last year.
Putting the numbers into context — where are the declines happening?
No one factor led to the decline in new students, Goodman said during a phone conference with reporters last week. Reasons include a mix of global and economic conditions, and in some cases expanded post-secondary education opportunities in their own countries, as well as declining populations in their home countries.
The scaling back of large Saudi and Brazilian government scholarship programs were a significant factor, said Rajika Bhandari, research and evaluation specialist for the Institute of International Education. Brazil saw a 32 percent drop in total students enrolled in U.S. colleges and Saudi Arabia saw a 14 percent drop in total students attending U.S. institutions.
Meanwhile, Nepal and Bangladesh saw the biggest increases in students attending U.S. colleges, though their overall numbers are still low. About a third of international students in the U.S. hail from China, and nearly 200,000 come from India.
Schools in the Midwest and those that are less selective saw the biggest drops in international student enrollment, Goodman said.
“They may need to be more intentional in recruitment,” he said. “This may be a good wake-up call for some schools to review their approach.”
Goodman said it’s too early to tell if the political climate under President Donald Trump plays a role in the decrease in new international students.
He cited increased costs to attend U.S. colleges; competition from schools in other countries, especially the U.K., Canada, Australia and Germany; visa delays or denials in visas; as well as the social and political climate in the U.S. may play a part in fewer enrollments. Numbers might also be skewed because some Chinese students are entering the U.S. to attend high school and then enrolling into college here.
“It’s much too soon to tell what is the defining factor,” he said.
The survey also reported about 325,000 U.S. students studied abroad in 2015-16, mostly in Europe. China dropped out of the top five host countries, as the number of U.S. students studying there dropped by 9 percent.