Fewer International Students Heading To The U.S. (#GotBitcoin?)
American colleges and universities face growing challenge amid rising competition from other countries, concerns about safety and immigration policies.
U.S. enrollment of international students declined for the second year in a row, sending waves of unease across American colleges and universities, which see students from abroad as a buffer against the falling number of U.S. high-school students graduating each year.
The number of new international students enrolling at American institutions fell by 6.6% during the 2017-18 academic year, on top of a 3.3% decline the year before, according to a report by the Institute of International Education released Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the total number of international students in the U.S. plus those working here on a student visa rose by just 1.5% this year. That was down from average annual growth of 6.1% over the past decade, a period during which enrollment of international students doubled.
Foreign students are big business: They pumped $42 billion into U.S. college and university coffers in the 2017-18 school year alone.
Students from abroad are still flocking to the coasts, but are less interested in the South and Midwest.
The shift is due to a combination of politics, fear, geography and branding, said Alejandra Sosa Pieroni, an international recruitment expert with Ruffalo Noel Levitz, a company that consults with colleges to improve enrollment.
“Students are not feeling welcome in some states, so they are looking beyond those states and heading to places where they will feel welcome,” she said.
The slowdown comes as U.S. schools struggle with demographic and revenue challenges due to the falling number of Americans graduating from high school. As a result, U.S. colleges and universities have become increasingly dependent on revenue generated from international students. Public schools often charge international students more than what domestic students pay.
The U.S. is also losing students to English-speaking countries such as Canada, Australia and the U.K, which have all seen growth in the past year.
“We’re hearing that they have choices; we’re hearing that there’s competition from other countries,” said Allan E. Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education.
Graduate schools were hardest hit among all segments of the higher-education market: Enrollment fell by 2.1%.
“It has become increasingly difficult to get a student visa in my country with the policy nowadays,” said Mohamed Gumaa, a master’s engineering student from Sudan who is studying at Texas Tech University.
China remained the largest single source of international students, accounting for about a third of all students who come to the U.S. for postsecondary degrees. The number of students coming from Canada and Mexico, meanwhile, fell by 4.3% and 8.1%, respectively.
The Northeast enjoyed the highest rate of growth in the number of overall international student visas at 3.4%, followed by the West at 1.9% and the South with 0.9%. International student visas in the Midwest fell 0.4%.
“There seems to be a higher level of comfort” in big cities and coastal regions, said Brad Farnsworth, vice president of Internationalization and Global Engagement at the American Council on Education, a Washington lobbying group representing colleges and universities.
Carol Spradling, director of the school of computer science at Northwest Missouri State University, said international enrollment began declining precipitously two years ago, following a “perfect storm” that included President Trump’s election with his tough talk on immigration and the shooting of an Indian immigrant worker in Olathe, Kan. The downturn, she said, had a huge impact on her school’s finances.
Schools in New England have seen gains. Kregg Strehorn, assistant provost for enrollment management at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said the question that most often comes up when talking to international families is whether they should be concerned about guns.
“That plays in our favor because I say, ‘Oh, let me tell you about Amherst, Massachusetts,’” he said, referring to the town’s safe reputation and tough gun policies.
International Student Enrollment Drops for Second Year, Report Says
Institutions that primarily offer masters degrees but not doctorates are hardest hit.
The international market for U.S. graduate education is softening.
For the second year in a row the number of students from abroad who enrolled in U.S. graduate schools fell by 1%. The drop was led by a decline in students from Saudi Arabia and India, according to a report released Thursday from the Council of Graduate Schools, a Washington, D.C.,-based organization whose members include 500 colleges and universities.
The modest declines follow years of robust growth and represent a challenge for U.S. universities, which rely on full-pay international students to balance budgets strained by a declining number of domestic students.
Hardest hit were institutions that primarily offer masters degrees but not doctorates. Those schools experienced a 15% decline in masters and certificate programs among first-time international graduate students. Doctoral programs at major research institutions rose slightly.
The drop in international students, measured between the fall of 2017 and fall of 2018, was most sharply felt in programs that have long been among the fastest growing. Enrollment in engineering fell 10%, physical and earth sciences fell 13% and public administration fell 27%, according to the report.
Students who earn master’s degrees, which are typically professionally oriented, often want to stay in the U.S. and work for a year or two. Many aren’t sure if they will get a visa allowing them to stay, said Hironao Okahana, co-author of the report.
Other factors include anti-immigrant sentiment, a strong U.S. dollar that can make programs more expensive, and a cutback in scholarship money provided by some countries—especially those dependent on oil revenue, Mr. Okahana said.
Graduate applications for Middle Eastern and North African students fell 14% between the fall of 2017 and the fall of 2018.
Nearly 250,000 international graduate students enrolled in U.S. graduates schools in the fall of 2018, about 20% of the total. China accounted for 36% of international student enrollment last year, India accounted for 24%.
At the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, the number of Indian graduate engineering students has fallen recently, said Patrick Quinn, vice president for enrollment. Because the school recruits from a broad base of countries, overall international graduate enrollment has remained flat, he said.
The school plans to continue to broaden its recruitment base to Vietnam, Morocco and Japan.
“We have to be smart and go to the right locations,” Mr. Quinn said.
Higher education is one of the nation’s leading exports: International students at all levels spent a total of $42 billion in the U.S. in 2017, according to the Institute of International Education, almost double what the U.S. sells in soybeans every year.
The U.S. still has the largest concentration of world class universities, according to global rankings, but that dominance is slipping. This year, the overall number of U.S. schools in the top 200 dropped to 60 from 72 in 2010, the first year of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Meanwhile, seven Chinese schools cracked the top 200, up from just two in 2014.