Troubling trends taint record high for international students

Students from China and elsewhere have expressed concerns about the political climate in the U.S., officials tell UB
By: | November 19, 2019
Growth in the enrollment of international students at U.S. colleges and universities has slowed significantly. Some blame the political climate, uncertainty over visa applications and increased competition from colleges in other countries.Growth in the enrollment of international students at U.S. colleges and universities has slowed significantly. Some blame the political climate, uncertainty over visa applications and increased competition from colleges in other countries.

The number of international students studying at U.S. colleges hit an all-time high of 1,095,299 in 2018-19, but overall enrollment only grew by just 0.05%. And the number of first-time international students declined for the third school year in a row, according to the “2019 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange,” which was released this week.

Despite the record total, the trends may be cause for concern. The meager 0.05% increase in international enrollment represents the least amount of growth in more than a decade. And the number of new students has been declining steadily since 2014-15, according to the report by the Institute of International Education and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

China remained the largest source of international students, followed by India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Canada, according to the “2019 Open Doors Report.” And though many institutions have seen a drop in enrollment from China, the country sent more students to the U.S. in 2018-19 than in the previous year, the report found.

Meanwhile, many U.S. colleges and universities are ramping up their recruiting efforts in India, Malaysia, some African nations, and other parts of the world, University Business reported earlier this month.


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Chinese college students and young people from other countries have concerns about the political climate in the U.S. and about whether they will be able to get the appropriate visa, admissions officials told UB.

University officials in Massachusetts told WBUR-FM that students are not getting prompt responses to their visa applications.

“We have a climate right now that is very unfriendly and stressful for international students,” Christina Bi Chen, assistant dean for international students at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, told the radio station.


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The “2019 Open Doors Report” also found that international students added $44.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018. However, the slowing growth of international enrollment has sapped $11.8 billion and more than 65,000 jobs from the U.S. economy, according to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, CNN reported.

Study abroad diversity grows

The number of U.S. students studying abroad increased by 2.7% from 2016-17 to 2017-18. European countries remained the most popular destinations, though the number of U.S. students studying in Japan, Israel and Argentina grew significantly, , according to the Open Doors report.

A more diverse group of students is studying overseas, with 30% in 2017-18 identifying as a member of a racial or ethnic minority group, compared with 23.7% in 2012-13 and 18.2% in 2007-08. This reflects efforts at several schools to expand study abroad opportunities to a wider range of students by awarding scholarships and assisting with passports, among other initiatives.


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