Following a huge drop in International students last year, U.S. colleges responding to a recent … [+]
The total number of international students studying at American colleges dropped 15% during academic year 2020-21, a decline associated with the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic. New international student enrollments fell even more dramatically – decreasing 46% in fall 2020. The numbers are contained in the new Open Doors report from the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the U.S. Department of State.
Last year’s decline meant that the overall number of international students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities dropped below one million for the first time since the 2014 academic year. The total stood at 914,000, a number that includes students who are taking courses online from an American college while still living in their home countries.
However, a preliminary snapshot in the report contains some encouraging news. International students appear to be returning to the U.S. in the fall, 2021 semester.
U.S. colleges responding to a survey about enrollment reported a 68% increase in new international student enrollments in fall, 2021 compared to fall, 2020. And, according to the survey, which was conducted by IIE and nine other higher-ed organizations, the overall number of international students grew by 4%.
The decline in international enrollments at U.S. colleges occurred at every level of study in 2020-21 and in all of higher ed’s major sectors.
All sectors saw decreases, albeit of varying magnitudes.
The top five countries of origin for students studying at U.S. institutions were:
Each of the top three countries saw double-digit declines in students coming to the U.S. to study. China was down 15%, India was off 13%, and enrollment of students from South Korea fell 21%.
The top five host institutions for international students in 2020-21 were:
The snapshot survey indicates that in-person learning is bouncing back at most institutions – 99% of the responding colleges indicated they’re offering classes in person or via a hybrid format, and 65% of the international students enrolled at colleges responding to the survey are taking classes in the United States.
Allan E. Goodman, IIE’s chief executive officer, is quoted in Inside Higher Education as saying that the history of academic mobility seen during previous pandemics suggests that “academic mobility occurs even during it, and when it’s controlled or when it’s over, there is a surge of the kind we very much hope to see, because people have deferred their dream to study abroad but haven’t abandoned it.”
Goodman added that the new data, “foreshadows that the same pattern will continue in the wake of this pandemic, that exchanges continued all during it … and it will increase and ramp up very rapidly in the years ahead.”
Whether that optimism turns out to be confirmed remains to be seen. U.S. colleges are still facing a lot of headwinds in the competition for international students, and they had already lost ground in that competition in the years that preceded the pandemic.
Compared to several countries that are trying to lure more international students to their institutions, tuition in the U.S. is more expensive. And there still is considerable anxiety about the reception that international students will receive in the U.S., a worry that persists as a legacy of Trump-era immigration policies and unpredictable, often unfriendly, international policies.
How much and how permanently the cumulative decreases in international enrollments can be turned around stands as a major challenge for U.S. higher education. Colleges are not likely to be able to go it alone. It will require a coordinated strategy involving the federal government, higher education and private businesses making a concentrated efforts to win international students back to the U.S.