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Numbers of Foreign Students Declining at US Universities

  • Chris Simkins

Over the last few years American college and universities have seen declining numbers of foreign students studying in the United States. The drop in foreign enrollment is becoming a growing trend as international students are looking to other countries to get a university degree.

There are fewer international students these days on the campuses of American colleges and universities. For the first time in decades more students who go abroad are not choosing to study in the United States. International students are now choosing to get their degrees from countries such as Australia, Britain, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, China and India.

As a result most U.S. universities reported a two and a half percent decline in foreign enrollment last year. Some school saw drops as big as 23 percent. George Mason University outside Washington, DC, is rated the most diverse university in the United States with students from 140 countries. But even its foreign student enrollment has been slowly falling over the last few years. Andrew Flagel, Dean of Admissions at George Mason says changing visa policies are one reason.

Andrew Flagel says, "The number of students who can actually get through the [immigration] visa process in a timely manner and into the United States has diminished dramatically and that has affected our numbers significantly, especially at the graduate level. We are also seeing a decrease in applications from overseas.

According to studies by the Association of International Educators, that's also due to the rising cost of a U.S. education. And Dean Flagel says U.S. schools are facing aggressive competition from universities in other English-speaking countries.

Andrew Flagel explains, "The Australian universities, British universities, even some new universities in other parts of the world have become very savvy about marketing themselves. It will be important in the coming years for American universities to continue to find ways to tell the stories about our products.

George Mason student Marko Caiafa from Denmark says his friends want to study in Europe to avoid U.S. visa requirements and because they like the European testing system and curriculum.

Marko Caiafa, a student from George Mason University says, "The education style is slightly different. A lot of people that live in Europe for example, most of my friends that live in my country Denmark, they preferred to go study in England because it was more compatible with the current program they were studying at the time."

Fanta Aw, is Director of International Students at American University in Washington. Ms. Aw believes enrollment among international students is down in part because of perceptions among students about the United States.

Fanta Aw, Director of International Student Services at American University says, "Post 9-11 there is still the perception out there that the United States is not as welcoming as it use to be. And even though there has been a lot of effort made to combat those perceptions, perceptions are quite powerful. In particular with the Middle East region the perception is that the U.S. is not as welcoming. So we are seeing a drop in enrollment of middle east students who use to be pretty sizable."

Anisa Ismail from Malaysia is a first year student at American University. She says studying in the United States so far has been a positive experience. But she says some of her friends in Malaysia believe since the September 11 terrorist attacks the United States is not a safe place to study.

Anisa Ismail, a student from American University says, "I have gotten feedback from people that I have told that I am coming to the U.S.. They would ask me why are you going to the U.S. isn't it dangerous and are you afraid? I was quite surprised actually, but that is not an uncommon view.

Foreign enrollment at U.S. graduate schools was already declining before September 11, 2001. Kristin Williams is the Director of Graduate School enrollment at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She says since a large drop in 1998 foreign student enrollment is now on the rebound.

Kristin Williams, Executive Director of Graduate School Enrollment at The George Washington University says, "Since 2001 to now our graduate enrollments at GW [George Washington] have dropped less than eight percent. Even though our overall applications have dropped more than that the quality of people among those applications has gone up. The people that are really interested in the quality of education at GW and the United States and the people who are particularly interested in studying in the United States for the experience that they have, those people are going to continue to come here. And I believe word of mouth plays a big part in peoples decision."

In an effort to attract more foreign students schools like George Mason University are working to increase international partnerships with universities in place such as China, Germany, and The United Arab Emirates. Education analysts say changing perceptions, and promoting the value of a U.S. education can reverse the decline in foreign student enrollment and perhaps restore the U.S. higher education systems preeminence for students from abroad.

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