International Student Enrollment in US Takes Hit
After big economic hits to the U.S. higher education sector over the past few years, experts say recruiting international students will be crucial to the industry’s recovery.
International student enrollment in U.S. universities has stalled and retreated in the past three years because of high costs, barriers to immigration and employment pathways, political rhetoric and perceived crime, according to data from the Institute of International Education (IIE).
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this decline with a 43% drop in the rate of international student enrollment for the fall 2020 semester, according to IIE.
And trade wars between the United States and China could cost American universities up to $1.15 billion in lost tuition revenue, a study from the University of California, San Diego says.
“Foreign tuition revenues are a crucial aspect of U.S. services exports,” the authors said. “Although much of the conversation on trade with China has focused on the goods trade deficit, there has been undeservedly little attention on the trade surplus with respect to educational services.”
About one-third of the more than 1 million international students in the U.S. come from China, according to IIE’s annual Open Doors report.
The report shows how income growth among upper-income families is linked to the export of educational services from the U.S. As Chinese cities exposed to trends of trade liberalization with the U.S. grew in wealth, they sent more students to study abroad. Freer trade policies alone accounted for about a quarter of Chinese students in the U.S. between 2004 and 2014, the report found.
The Trump administration imposed a tariff increase of 20 percentage points for Chinese products in 2018 in an effort to promote American products, making imported goods more expensive. The researchers found that about 30,000 fewer Chinese international students would attend American universities over the next 10 years. That could result in an 8% decrease in educational exports to China and up to $1.15 billion in lost revenue for American educational institutions.
“If the trade wars continue out into the future, a portion of the gain that happened as a result of free trade will decrease,” said Guarav Khanna, co-author of “Trade Liberalization and Chinese Students in U.S. Higher Education,” published in July 2020. “That free trade has driven the flow of students into the U.S., and restricting trade would partly reverse some of that.”
The rate of Chinese international student enrollment grew by 0.8% in the last year, according to IIE.
“That’s a really small number compared to the exponential growth we’d been seeing five years earlier,” Khanna told VOA. “Rates of international students were really high, and they really slowed down after 2016. They slowed down further because of trade wars.”
High tariffs impacting China’s wealthiest cities could help explain a decline in international student enrollment in U.S. universities. Meanwhile, competing countries are ramping up their recruitment.
In an opinion article for the Brisbane Times published February 19, John Brumby, chancellor of La Trobe University, wrote that since education is Australian’s fourth-largest export, international students should be welcomed and encouraged to attend institutions of higher education in Australia. Additionally, he wrote that Chinese international students stimulate the Australian economy and support at least 250,000 jobs in Australia.
“Students are choosing to study abroad, but they’re choosing countries like Canada and Australia, which not only are trying to make it easy for those students to go to these countries, but making it easy for students to stay and work after,” Khanna said. “In the last two years, the U.S. has made it more difficult for these students.”
The Biden administration looks set to continue the trade war on China, The Associated Press reported, which may continue to impact international student enrollment. No tariff cuts are expected by analysts. This may further a deceleration and potential decline in Chinese international student enrollment in the U.S.
One metric this year indicates that enrollment from other countries has “surged.”
“International applicant volume surged relative to 2019-20, highlighting meaningful growth in several home countries,” Jenny Rickard, president and chief executive officer of Common Application said in January. Common App is a standardized college application form used by nearly 900 institutions of higher education in the U.S. and internationally.
“While applicants from China declined by 18%, other countries exhibited noteworthy growth, including India (+28%); Canada (+22%); Pakistan (+37%); the United Kingdom (+23%); and Brazil (+41%),” Rickard explained.
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Biden Cancels Federal Student Loans for Nearly 153,000 Borrowers
President Joe Biden said Wednesday that while a college degree was still a ticket to a better life, that ticket is often too expensive, as he announced he was canceling federal student loans for nearly 153,000 borrowers.
Biden, who is in the midst of a three-day campaign swing through California, made the announcement as part of a new repayment plan that offers a faster path to forgiveness, putting the spotlight on his debt cancellation efforts in his reelection campaign.
"Too many Americans are still saddled with unsustainable debt in exchange for a college degree," he said from a local library before he went on to campaign-related events. Loan relief helps the greater economy, he said, because "when people have a student debt relief, they buy homes. They start businesses, they contribute. They engage."
The administration began sending email notifications on Wednesday to some of the borrowers who will benefit from what the White House has called the SAVE program. The cancellations were originally scheduled to start in July, but last month the administration said it would be ready almost six months ahead of schedule, in February.
"Starting today, the first round of folks who are enrolled in our SAVE student loan repayment plan who have paid their loans for 10 years and borrowed $12,000 or less will have their debt cancelled," Biden posted on social media Wednesday. "That's 150,000 Americans and counting. And we're pushing to relieve more."
The first round of forgiveness from the SAVE plan will clear $1.2 billion in loans. The borrowers will get emails with a message from Biden notifying them that "all or a portion of your federal student loans will be forgiven because you qualify for early loan forgiveness under my Administration's SAVE Plan."
In his email to borrowers, Biden wrote he had heard from "countless people who have told me that relieving the burden of their student loan debt will allow them to support themselves and their families, buy their first home, start a small business, and move forward with life plans they've put on hold."
More than 7.5 million people have enrolled in the new repayment plan.
He said Wednesday that it was the kind of relief "that can be life-changing for individuals and their families."
"I'm proud to have been able to give borrowers like so many of you the relief you earned," he said, asking the crowd gathered for his speech how many had debt forgiven. Many raised their hands.
Borrowers are eligible for cancellation if they are enrolled in the SAVE plan, originally borrowed $12,000 or less to attend college and have made at least 10 years of payments. Those who took out more than $12,000 will be eligible for cancellation but on a longer timeline. For each $1,000 borrowed beyond $12,000, it adds an additional year of payments on top of 10 years.
The maximum repayment period is capped at 20 years for those with only undergraduate loans and 25 years for those with any graduate school loans.
Biden announced the new repayment plan last year alongside a separate plan to cancel up to $20,000 in loans for millions of Americans. The Supreme Court struck down his plan for widespread forgiveness, but the repayment plan has so far escaped that level of legal scrutiny. Unlike his proposal for mass cancellation — which had never been done before — the repayment plan is a twist on existing income-based plans created by Congress more than a decade ago.
Biden said he remained steadfast in his commitment to "fix our broken student loan system," working around the court's ruling to find other ways to get it done.