Number of International Students Coming to US Continues to Drop

13 November, 2018

The number of new international students attending American colleges and universities has dropped for the second straight year.

Newly arriving foreign students fell about 7 percent in the 2017-2018 school year, a not-for-profit research group found. The number of students dropped to about 271,000. The latest decrease followed a 3 percent drop during the 2016-2017 school year.

The information was released Tuesday in the 2018 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. The report is a project of the New York-based Institute of International Education, or IIE, and the U.S. Department of State.

The report said sharper competition from schools in other nations – for example Australia and Canada – was a major reason for the drop in international students coming to the U.S. It also said rising education costs in the U.S. compared to other countries played a big part.

Graduating students from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University wave flags during a graduation ceremony in New York, Wednesday, May 17, 2017.
Graduating students from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University wave flags during a graduation ceremony in New York, Wednesday, May 17, 2017.

"International students have more choices than ever before on where to pursue higher education," said IIE president Allan Goodman in a statement.

The organization largely dismissed the opinion of some education experts that the decrease is linked to statements and policies of the current U.S. administration on immigration issues.

"We're not hearing that students feel they can't come here. We're hearing that they have choices," Goodman told reporters while discussing report results. "For the first time, we have real competition," he said.

U.S. policy changes

Cary Jensen is an administrator who works with international students at the University of Rochester in New York. He told Reuters he believes there are other reasons for the drop in students besides increased competition. He said a major issue currently facing American universities is the lack of clear and steady policies by the current U.S. administration.

One of those policies was a travel ban ordered by President Donald Trump on people from several Muslim-majority nations.

In addition, U.S. officials have said they plan to seek a new limit on how long international students will be permitted to stay in the U.S. Currently, students can stay as long as they are continuing their studies.

Jensen said such proposals and policies have created an overall political environment seen as unfriendly to immigrants and foreigners. "That has kind of been the worst part of this, the uncertainty," Jensen said. "That breeds fear and people tend to overreact."

Doug Rand is a former official who worked on immigration issues for former president Barack Obama. He said he believes the current situation is "not a welcoming environment" for foreign students interested in studying in the U.S.

Rand called it "an act of willful ignorance" to suggest U.S. immigration policies are not having a direct effect on foreign student numbers. He noted that the Trump administration has moved to restrict the number of skilled worker visas and permanent residency permits. Many incoming international students would be seeking such approvals in the future.

Caroline Casagrande is a State Department official in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. She told reporters the "flattening" of international student attendance actually began with the 2015-2016 year, before the start of the Trump administration. That year, the number of new international students rose by 2.4 percent compared to the previous year.

Casagrande said she found it "unwarranted" for people to say that the continued drops are "completely the result of a political environment."

The latest Open Doors Report did find that overall, the total number of international students increased slightly during the 2017-2018 school year. The 1.5 rise meant the total number of international students in the U.S. during the period passed one million for the third straight year.

Similar to in the past, the largest numbers of students last year came from China, India and South Korea. The three countries combined made up 56 percent of all international students.

The top school for international students was New York University. This was followed by the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. At number three was Boston's Northeastern University, followed by Columbia University in New York City.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from the Associated Press, Reuters and the Institute of International Education. Hai Do was the editor.

What are your thoughts and experiences on studying abroad? Write to us in the Comments section, and visit 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

pursue v. follow in an attempt to get of accomplish something

breed v. to cause something to develop

ignorance n. not enough knowledge, understanding, or information about something

unwarranted adj. without a good reason