U.S. Colleges Report 43% Drop in New International Student Enrollments, Not Just Because of the Pandemic


For the fourth consecutive year, the number of international students enrolled in US colleges and universities declined. That’s according to data released this month by the State Department and the Institute of International Education.

That much of the decline took place under President Donald Trump is no coincidence. The Trump administration has tightened restrictions on who can study here and also sent advises that foreign students are not welcome.

As the Trump administration draws to a close, the new data on international listings is serving as a sort of failure note for an administration that claimed international education would be a top priority. The Trump administration has also made a commitment to increase the number international students in the United States and boasted for having spent more to recruit international students than any other administration in history.

As important as it is to have a global outlook at U.S. colleges and universities, the steadily declining international enrollment goes beyond that. Like a international education specialist, I know that the continued decline in the number of international students will negatively affect American students and the American economy.

Always more than 1 million

There are currently only over a million international students study in the United States This has been the case since 2015. This current figure includes 851,957 students enrolled in higher education institutions and 223,539 people engaged in elective practical training, a program that allows recent international graduates to stay temporarily in the United States to get work or volunteer. experience related to their specialty, according to the data I analyzed from the Institute of International Education.

The optional practical training is important to consider when examining international enrollment trends in the Trump era. The reason is that the true impact of the Trump administration on international listings is obscured by Politics of the Obama era which allowed more international students to stay in the United States for longer periods through the optional practical training program.

As these people complete their training programs, the total number of international students will likely drop below the million mark again.

Where do they come from

While students came from over 220 countries and territories, China and India accounted for 53% of the total, according to the data.

About a third of international students – 34.8% – have enrolled in graduate courses. The second largest group was students enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs – 33.1%. Associated and non-degree studies accounted for 5.9% and 5.4%, respectively, of international student enrollments in the United States. The remaining 20.8% were in optional practical training.

Just over half of all international students – 52% – pursued majors in science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM.

How they pay for school

At the undergraduate level, 83.9% of international students rely on personal and family income to pay for their studies in the United States

Five percent depend on a foreign government or university, and 0.4% depend on a foreign private sponsor. In total, 89.3% inject money from abroad into the US economy, while the remaining 10.7% rely primarily on funding from a US source. At the graduate level, 60.7% of international students depend primarily on international funds, as 36.5% received funding from their college in the United States. in their discipline. The remaining 2.8% received funds from other US sources.

Most of the money spent by international students – 55% – is spent in the higher education sector. It helps colleges support high-tech university programs. It also helps keep tuition fees lower for students from the United States

But a drop in the number of international students isn’t just hurting college bottom lines – it harms local economies also.

When you subtract all funding from U.S. sources, analysis found that international students contributed $ 38.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2019. These dollars supported 415,996 US jobs, based on a economic analysis.

Consider also that 18% of every dollar the expenses of international students go to the rental of apartments and other forms of accommodation; 11% go to restaurants, 9% to retail and the rest to other sectors of the economy.

No matter how you slice the data, the fact remains that international students make a positive contribution to the U.S. economy. In reality, 1 in 4 billion dollar startups in the United States had a founder who first arrived on a student visa.

Looking forward

Many international students have reacted positively to the victory of President-elect Joseph Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris.

Nonetheless, I think it will take years to reverse the trend of drop in international registrations which intensified under Trump.

It is true that there has been a drop in the last year of the Obama administration, but it was mostly due to the fact that the Brazilian and Saudi governments reduction of major scholarship programs abroad for their citizens. This resulted in a decrease in 10,586 Brazilian students and 8,670 fewer Saudi students between 2014 and 2016. The situation worsened as the United States became seen by international students like a unwelcoming nation under Trump.

After the pandemic

The Institute of International Education has also partnered with nine other higher education associations to assess international student enrollments in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. the most alarming facts of the survey are a 43% drop in new international student enrollments and a 16% reduction in total international enrollments as of fall 2020. The study also found that one in 5 international students would study online from abroad. , and approximately 40,000 international students have chosen to defer their enrollment to a future term.

All in all, the results reflect a lot of uncertainty for the future of US colleges, which were already – before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic – anticipating this. the total number of registrations will drop by more than 15% after the year 2025 due to record birth rates in the United States that began in 2008 and continue to this day.

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Some experts attribute this drop in the birth rate to the 2008 financial crisis. People may have simply delayed having children or had fewer due to the economic hardships of those times. And 17 years later, in 2025, there will inevitably be fewer students and more empty places in college classrooms.

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is estimated at three times worse than the financial crisis of 2008. As a result, colleges could experience another significant drop in overall enrollment caused by similar demographic shifts by 2037. Successful recruitment of international students will be critical in offsetting these declines.


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