Slowdown in Enrollments of Foreign Students at U.S. Universities

By Mack Wilowski, National News Editor

For most of the past decade, enrollments of international students at American universities and institutes for higher education have risen at a remarkable pace, with enrollments for first-time foreign students reaching 300,000 during the 2015-16 academic year. However, newly released statistics from the nonprofit Institute For International Education indicate a dramatic slowdown in foreign student enrollments for the most recent school year, with the number of new-student entries declining by 3.4 percent in the fall semester of 2016 compared to a year prior, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

International students account for a growing proportion of the revenues of universities throughout the country, as many colleges face budget shortfalls as they offer greater tuition discounts for local students, in an attempt to provide greater appeal for these students, as well as reductions in state funding for universities. The changing circumstances will likely entice university boards and presidents to rethink their enrollment strategies and seek further solutions to manage costs. In this case, the loss of significant numbers of international students will exacerbate the problem.

Many college presidents and administrators throughout the country have become fully aware of the problem. “When you lose 100-some international students and multiply that by tuition, that’s obviously a hit on the budget,” said Jim Baker, vice president for research and economic development at Missouri State University. More broad-based international recruiting strategies might serve as a possible solution, which convince students abroad of the opportunities offered by American universities.

One leading contributor to this decline, many school officials say, is the uncertain political and social climate facing the United States in the present day. Some of the proposals of the Trump administration this past year, including the January travel ban and plans to build a wall along the Mexican border could have caused international students to reconsider their college destinations. The second likely contributor involves actions and incentives of other countries toward students.

China, which accounts for roughly 33 percent of international student arrivals in the U.S., recently made large strides in improving its own educational institutes, with more Chinese schools recognized in global rankings.  In other parts of the world, the governments of Saudi Arabia and Brazil recently reduced subsidies and scholarships for the students of their nations who are planning to study abroad, with enrollments in U.S. institutions from both countries falling by 32 and 14 percent, respectively, over the past year. Canadian institutions, which tend to charge lower tuition fees compared to the U.S., have seen a modest increase in foreign enrollments over a 12-month period. Nonetheless, U.S. institutions are ramping up their efforts to win over and welcome foreign students, as the resulting benefits are significant.


A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 21st print edition.

Contact Mack at

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