While more than 1 million internationals study in the U.S. for college and university, the rate at which they are arriving is slower, with a decline shown among new foreign students coming here.
The annual Open Doors report released Monday shows that the rapid rise of international students -- mostly from China and India -- over the past decade stalled in 2016-2017. Enrollment figures show about 10,000 fewer new students came to the U.S. this year over last.
This is the first time the number of new enrollments has declined in six years.
“The factors driving the decline are a mix of global and local economic conditions,” said Allan Goodman, president of the International Institute for Education (IIE), which compiles the data with the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, such as declines in students coming from Saudi Arabia and Brazil.
Because of cutbacks in overseas government programs that fund scholarship in the U.S., Saudi enrollment in U.S. schools declined 14 percent. Brazil showed a 32 percent decline in the amount of students it sends here.
The cost of college in the U.S. and increased competition from universities and programs in other nations has dampened the attractiveness of higher education in the U.S., IIE reported.
“What we’re hearing for the first time is ‘Ouch!’ from families,” Goodman said. “Our costs have risen to the point where our students are looking for alternatives.”
Schools in Germany, France, China and Japan, among others, are setting up programs taught in English, said Peggy Blumenthal, IIE’s chief counselor to Goodman. Some of those programs are far less expensive than tuition and fees in the U.S., she said.
“Countries and multinational employers around the world are competing to attract top talent. As more countries become active hosts of international students and implement national strategies to attract them, the competition … will only intensify,” Goodman said.
Other factors dissuading internationals from coming to America? Safety and security for their children, and the existing political climate, experts said.
Increasing conflicts on U.S. campuses gives parents and grandparents pause before sending their young family members to America, said Rajika Bhandari, head of research, police and practice at IIE.
Incidents have made global news about fatalities and hurt in college towns, such as in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white supremacists clashed with opponents near the University of Virginia. One women and two male law enforcement officers were killed this summer in protests.
In the Midwest, a Chinese student abducted at the University of Illinois is presumed dead. Most recently, a Chinese student was killed in a car-jacking near the University of Utah. Two Indian immigrants who came to the U.S. as international students, were shot in Kansas as they enjoyed a drink after work. One died, and the news was widely reported in India.
Those incidents have dove-tailed with President Donald Trump’s call for less immigration, specifically from Muslim-majority nations. Some students have expressed fear that their visas could be nullified, leaving them with incomplete degree programs in the U.S.
However, none of the 10 top countries that account for the overwhelming number of foreign enrollment are included in current visa restrictions.
China and India continue to send the most students: China sent 350,000 (nearly 7 percent increase), and India, 186,000 (more than 12 percent more than the previous year). Nepalese enrollment increased to more than 11,000 studying in the U.S. (20 percent upward shift); Vietnamese more than 22,400 (nearly 5 percent more than the past year).
Iranian enrollment increased to 12,600 students (3 percent increase) in U.S. schools, while Nigeria -- which sends the most African students to U.S. institutions -- had 11,700 students here, a nearly 10 percent increase.
Bangladesh sent more than 7,000 students to the U.S. in the past academic year, an increase of 9.7 percent.
Mexico is ninth in the list of countries that send students to the U.S., with nearly 17,000 in programs. That was a 0.6 percent increase over the past school year. Canada is No. 5, sending 27,000 students to the southern side of North America.
The No. 1 major for international students is engineering, business and management, math and computer science (which increased 18 percent), social sciences, physical and life sciences, fine and applied arts, health professions. Studies in Intensive English declined nearly 26 percent, with education declining more than 7 percent.
The number of international students in the U.S. are staying longer to participate in Optional Practical Training (OPT), a visa program that allows them to train in their field after their degree is complete.
IIE also conducts what they call a “snapshot” of trends for the current school year, 2017-2018. The nearly 500 colleges and universities say they see the same flattening in number of students and decline of about 7 percent in new students.
International students add about $39.4 billion to the U.S. economy through tuition, room and board and living expenses, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Sixty percent of international students pay for their U.S. education through personal family funds.
The universities with the largest populations of international students are New York University, University of Southern California, Columbia University, Northeastern University, Arizona State University, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, University of California-Los Angeles, Purdue University, University of Texas-Dallas, Pennsylvania State University.
The states where most international students attend programs are California, New York, Texas, Massachusetts, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana.
The survey is conducted by IIE with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), American Council on Education (ACE), Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU), College Board, Council on Graduate Schools (CGS), National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), and the Association of International Educators (NAFSA).