New Trends in US International Student Enrollment

Mar 31, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

A new survey released by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and five other higher education groups reveals that 40 percent of US colleges and universities experienced a decrease in applications for the Fall 2017 term. 

The IIE and its consortium initiated the survey in response to fears “that political discourse surrounding foreign nationals in the US … could be damaging to international student-recruitment efforts.”

It has.  The universities surveyed report a 39 percent decrease in Middle Eastern undergraduate applications, and a 31 percent decline in graduate applicants from the region. 

In 2016, the six countries in President Trump’s revised travel ban sent 15,000 students to the US.  There could be a correlation between the decrease in applications and the President’s executive order. 

The US also saw a decline in applications from China at 32 percent and India at 26 percent.  Currently, Chinese students contribute $11 billion per year to the US economy and Indian students contribute $5 billion.  While the executive order does not target those countries, many international students sense a shift in US attitudes towards foreigners and shy away from studying in the US.  Why?     

There’s a prevailing sense of uncertainty among international applicants, according to university admissions officers. Some wonder if US universities will continue to be safe and welcoming academic destinations.

Instead, many international students are seeking other options: France, Australia, and the UK, to name a few.  Those countries are working on ways to capitalize on the shifting demographic. 

Despite the travel ban and the pervading rhetoric of fear, many international students still see the US as a desirable study destination.  Let’s hope so. 

Not only is the loss of international students on US campuses an economic hit, but it’s a cultural one.  Less diversity in the classroom yields a less diverse cadre of ideas and experiences—and a less thoughtful public.

Learn more about studying in the US


Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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