Total International Student Enrollment in USA Continues to Fall

admin 0 Comments November 25, 2019

Growth in the number of Indian undergraduate students enrolling in United States universities and colleges has outpaced that of Chinese undergraduate students in 2018-19, according to data just released in the 2019 Open Doors Report.

Indian undergraduate enrolment grew by 6.3% as compared to 0.2% for China and there was a decline of 2.4% for overall international enrolment at the undergraduate level.

The number of international undergraduates from China rose by 287 compared with 1,467 from India and there was a fall of 10,816 overall from all countries.

This was the sixth year in a row that growth in enrolment of Chinese undergraduates has fallen and is the biggest fall in that period. The peak came in 2012-13 with growth of 19,273, dropping to 16,761 in 2013-14, 14,002 in 2014-15, 11,077 in 2015-16, 7,222 in 2016-17, 5,742 in 2017-18 and 287 in 2018-19.

This trajectory and the wider context points to an expected fall in absolute numbers of Chinese undergraduate enrolments in 2019-20.

Dr Rahul Choudaha, a US-based international education expert at DrEducation, told University World News: “This is a pivotal year, as the first time that absolute growth in the number of Indian students is higher than that of Chinese students.

“The positive traction for Indian undergraduate enrolment is a ray of hope for many American universities at times of intensifying competition and unwelcoming immigration rhetoric,” he said.

However, the overall picture remains gloomy, with data also showing that number of international students enrolling to study at all levels of higher education in the United States fell for a third year in a row in 2018-19, although the level of decline appears to be levelling off.

The number of students enrolling for the first time at a US institution in 2018-19 declined by 0.9%, recovering from sharper declines the year before, according to the 2019 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, released on 18 November. However, it remains more than 10% down on 2015.

Some experts are blaming the lack of growth on the hostile environment for foreigners created by the Trump administration and rising tension with China. But others say it could have as much or more to do with the pace of development of higher education in Asian source countries, especially China.

Dr Stephanie K Kim, writing in University World News, says: “Asian students are not just looking to destinations like the United States for international education; they now have a myriad of opportunities at home.”

The total number of international students enrolled in undergraduate programmes declined by 2.4% to 431,930, and the number in graduate programmes declined by 1.3% to 377,943.

The number of international students in non-degree programmes declined by 5% to 62,341.

The levelling of declines in newly enrolled international students continues into the 2019-20 academic year, according to data from the 2019 Fall International Student Enrollment Snapshot Survey, a survey conducted by the Institute of International Education and nine partner higher education associations. Around 500 institutions participate in this survey, a subset of the more than 2,800 institutions surveyed for Open Doors.

All-time high

Despite the declines in enrolment, the total number of international students in the United States actually reached an all-time high in the 2018-19 academic year, the fourth consecutive year with more than one million international students.

The slimmest of increases on last year – 0.05% – pushed the total number of international students to 1,095,299, according to the 2019 Open Doors Report.

The overall rise in the number of students in the US, despite declining enrolments in degree programmes, is due to a significant increase in the number of post-degree students on Optional Practical Training (OPT) programmes, which jumped by 9.6% to 223,085.

These are programmes that allow international students to work for 12 months during or on completion of their studies in an area directly related to their studies.

The jump followed policy changes that allow STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students to remain in the United States on OPT opportunities related to their discipline for up to 36 months after the completion of their studies.

International students make up 5.5% of the total US higher education population and contributed US$44.7 billion to the US economy in 2018, an increase of 5.5% from the previous year, according to data from the US Department of Commerce.

Growth in US students studying abroad

Open Doors also revealed that in the 2017-18 academic year, 341,751 US students participated in study abroad programmes for academic credit, a 2.7% increase over the previous year.

“We are happy to see the continued growth in the number of international students in the United States and US 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.”

Open Doors 2019 was released on 18 November by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

IIE President and CEO Allan Goodman said: “The record numbers of international students in the United States and US students studying abroad mean that more students than ever before are being exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking.

“They will have greater ability to succeed in and contribute to an increasingly complex and interconnected world.”

China remains largest source

For the 10th consecutive year, China remained the largest source of international students in the United States in 2018-19, with 369,548 students in undergraduate, graduate, non-degree and OPT programmes.

This represented a 1.7% increase from 2017-18 and was achieved despite increasing geopolitical tensions between the US and China.

India was the second-largest source with 202,014 (up 2.9%), followed by South Korea (52,250, down 4.2%), Saudi Arabia (37,080, down 16.5%) and Canada (26,122, up 0.8%).

The increase in numbers from India was fuelled by a 6.3% increase in undergraduates (to 24,813), a 12.3% increase in OPT students (to 84,630) and an 18.8% increase in non-degree students (to 2,238). But it masks a worrying 5.6% decline in Indian students enrolled at graduate level, the biggest category, down to 90,333.

Emerging market countries showed some of the strongest growth year over year, especially Bangladesh (up 10%), Brazil (up 9.8%), Nigeria (up 5.8%) and Pakistan (up 5.6%).

More than half (51.6%) of international students in the US pursued STEM fields in 2018-19 and the number of international students in maths and computer science programmes grew by 9.4%, surpassing business and management to become the second-largest field of study for international students.

Engineering remained the largest academic field for international students in 2018-19, with 21.1% of all international students.

Relegation of business and management

The relegation of business and management to second most popular field of study follows the finding of a Graduate Management Admission Council or GMAC report last month of a worrying decline in international student interest in studying at US business schools. They saw a 13.7% decline in international applications in 2019 after a 16.4% increase the previous year, which the report said was a “steeper decline than any other country in the world”.

Choudaha said that consistent growth in OPT numbers shows that it is a popular programme among international students pursuing STEM degrees, however there is a consistent decline in international student enrolment in non-STEM degrees.

“Likewise, there are differences in enrolment trends by level of education and source country. For example, enrolment of Indian undergraduate students expanded even in this unwelcoming political climate as the children of high-income professional classes become college-ready.”

He said this divergence in international enrolment reaffirms the complex interplay of many variables influencing student choice.

“One common variable affecting all international students and contraction in demand is the effect of unwelcoming immigration and visa policies.”

The GMAC report said changes in the H-1B visa had resulted in far fewer job opportunities for international students upon graduation, and two-thirds of Indian students and 52% of Chinese students said not being able to obtain a job in the US post-graduation would prevent them from applying to business schools there.

Europe remains top destination

European countries remain the most popular destinations for US study abroad students, with 54.9% of study abroad students going to Europe in 2017-18. The United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France and Germany hosted the most US study abroad students.

The number of US study abroad students in Japan grew by 12.4% from the previous year, and Greece (+20.0%), the Netherlands (+15.4%), Israel (+11.9%) and Argentina (+11.2%) also saw double-digit gains.

The number of study abroad students in Latin America and the Caribbean fell by 1.4%, due to a sharp decline in study abroad to Cuba. Excluding Cuba, the number of study abroad students in this region grew by 3.1%.

An increasing number of STEM students are studying abroad, representing 25.6% of the total.

Royce said international exchange makes US colleges and universities more dynamic for all students and an education at a United States institution “can have a transformative effect for international students, just like study abroad experiences can for US students”.

The population of study abroad students has also continued to become more diverse: 30% of study abroad students in 2017-18 identified as a member of a racial or ethnic minority group, compared to 23.7% in 2012-13 and 18.2% in 2007-08.

This represents an increase in access to study abroad opportunities for underserved populations of students in higher education, but it still trails the diversity of the US higher education community as a whole.


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