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Fewer Foreign Students Enrolling in US College and Universities

Foreign Students Focus on Business, Engineering Studies in US Schools
Foreign Students Focus on Business, Engineering Studies in US Schools

More international students come to the U.S. from around the world for higher education than any other country, but those metrics show stagnation -- and steep declines from some countries -- for the second year after decades of growth.

The annual Open Doors report, compiled by the Institute for International Education with the U.S. State Department and released Monday, for the 2018-2019 school year showed enrollment of 1,095,299 international students among 19,828,000 total students in institutions of higher education in the U.S.

That makes international students 5.5% of all college and university students in the U.S.

The numbers showed a slight increase in total international enrollment, 0.05% from the previous year, but a decrease in new international student enrollment, -0.9%.

Decreases were seen in undergraduate (-2.4%), graduate (-1.3%) and non-degree (-5.0%) trends, as well.

China sent the most students -- 369,548 -- comprising 33.7 percent of all foreign students, a 1.7 percent increase from the previous year.

India sent the second-largest number -- 202,014 -- or 18.4% of all college and university students, a 2.9% increase from the previous year.

But several other countries, in descending order of number of students sent to the U.S., showed declines: South Korea (-4.2%), Saudi Arabia (-16.5%), Canada (0.8%), Vietnam (0.3%), Taiwan (4.1%), Japan (-3.5%), Brazil (9.8%), Mexico (-1.5%), Nigeria (5.8%), Nepal (-0.3%), Iran (-5.0%), the United Kingdom (-2.7%), Turkey (-3.4%), Kuwait (-9.8%), Germany (-8.5%), France (-1.0%), Indonesia (-3.4%), Bangladesh (10%), Colombia (1.1%), Pakistan (5.6%), Venezuela (-7.3%), Malaysia (-6.8%) and Spain (-3.0%).

What is turning off international students from coming to study in the U.S.?

Institutions polled indicated the slowdown includes the high cost of tuition at U.S. colleges and universities, difficulty in getting visas or the insecurity of maintaining a student visa throughout a student's education, students feeling a lack of welcome in the U.S., negative political rhetoric and news of crime in the U.S.

“We are happy to see the continued growth in the number of international students in the United States and U.S. students studying abroad,” said Marie Royce, assistant secretary of state for Educational and Cultural Affairs.

“Promoting international student mobility remains a top priority for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and we want even more students in the future to see the United States as the best destination to earn their degrees," Royce said. "International exchange makes our colleges and universities more dynamic for all students, and an education at a U.S. institution can have a transformative effect for international students, just like study abroad experiences can for U.S. students.”

The Optional Practical Training (OPT) program showed a 9.6% increase of involvement, indicating that students who were in the international student pipeline of study in the U.S. were taking advantage of OPT, which allows them to stay in the U.S. after graduation for one to three years, depending on their field of study. Science, technology, engineering and math graduates are granted longer OPT visas than some other courses of study.

The most popular fields of study for international students are in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. But declines in enrollments were seen there, as well: engineering (-0.8%), business and management (-7.1%), intensive English (-14.8%) and education (-4.7%).

International students who came to the U.S. to study agriculture increased by 10.3%.

International students contributed $41 billion to the U.S. economy in the 2018-2019 academic year, according to NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Commerce said international students contributed $42 billion to the U.S. economy.

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Tips for staying safe while studying in the US

FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2019 photo, Sgt. Jason Cowger, with Johns Hopkins University's Campus Safety and Security department, walks on the university's campus in Baltimore.
FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2019 photo, Sgt. Jason Cowger, with Johns Hopkins University's Campus Safety and Security department, walks on the university's campus in Baltimore.

Recent news events have raised safety concerns among some international students studying in the United States.

Adarsh Khandelwal, writing in the India Times, has tips for staying safe from the moment you arrive until the day you complete your studies. (March 2024)

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FILE - A teacher librarian at a Connecticut high school, left, works with a student in a Digital Student class, Dec. 20, 2017. The required class teaches media literacy skills and has the students scrutinize sources for their on-line information.
FILE - A teacher librarian at a Connecticut high school, left, works with a student in a Digital Student class, Dec. 20, 2017. The required class teaches media literacy skills and has the students scrutinize sources for their on-line information.

A 2019 study by Stanford found that most college students can’t tell the difference between real and fake news articles. Amid rampant online disinformation, and the threat of AI-generated images, some schools are making students learn “digital literacy” to graduate.

Lauren Coffeey reports for Inside Higher Ed. (March 2024)

With federal student aid delays, students aren’t sure what college will cost 

File - Students make their way through the Sather Gate near Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley, campus March 29, 2022, in Berkeley, Calif.
File - Students make their way through the Sather Gate near Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley, campus March 29, 2022, in Berkeley, Calif.

The U.S. Department of Education’s federal student aid form (FAFSA) experienced serious glitches and delays this year.

Now, many students have been admitted to college, but don’t know how much money they’ll need to attend.

Read the story from Susan Svrluga and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel for The Washington Post. (March 2024)

Senator draws attention to universities that haven’t returned remains

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, speaks with reporters as he walks to a vote on Capitol Hill, Sept. 6, 2023 in Washington.
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, speaks with reporters as he walks to a vote on Capitol Hill, Sept. 6, 2023 in Washington.

More than 70 U.S. universities continue to hold human remains taken from Native American burial sites, although those remains were supposed to be returned 30 years ago.

Jennifer Bendery writes in Huffington Post that one senator has been using his position in an attempt to shame universities into returning remains and artifacts. (April 2024)

COVID forced one international student to go hungry

FILE - Masked students walk to the COVID-19 vaccination site at the Rose E. McCoy Auditorium on the Jackson State University campus in Jackson, Miss., July 27, 2021.
FILE - Masked students walk to the COVID-19 vaccination site at the Rose E. McCoy Auditorium on the Jackson State University campus in Jackson, Miss., July 27, 2021.

When Samantha (not her real name) enrolled in community college in the U.S., her family at home in South Africa scrimped and saved to support her.

But the COVID-19 pandemic hurt the family’s finances, and at one point Samantha had four on-campus jobs just to make ends meet. Many in the U.S. believe international students are wealthy sources of funding for universities, but stories like Samantha’s suggest otherwise.

Andrea Gutierrez reports for The World. (March 2024)

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