Number of Foreign Students Studying in U.S. Colleges Shows Signs of ‘Flattening’

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The intense desire of international families to send their children to college in the United States is a major factor driving demand for improved education in many foreign markets.

But enrollment in U.S. higher education institutions among those students has shown recent signs of “flattening,” a new report concludes.

Overall, the number of international students studying in the United States rose by 3.4 percent, to 1.078 million students, during the 2016-17 school year. Nearly 35,000 more students enrolled in U.S. institutions during that period on non-immigrant student visas, according to the Open Doors report, published annually by the nonprofit Institute of International Education.

It’s the 11th straight year that the Open Doors report has recorded growth in the number of international students in U.S. colleges and universities.

But at the same time, the number of new international students–those who were enrolled at a U.S. institution for the first time in the fall of 2016–fell for the first time in 12 years since Open Doors began reporting that piece of data.

There’s an explanation for the disconnect between the overall, rising enrollment of foreign students and the drop-off in new enrollees:

Even though fewer new foreign students started this year at U.S. colleges, there was a relatively large pool of other students already taking part in degree programs and choosing to stay for additional training, said Sharon Witherell, a spokeswoman for the institute. In other words, a large number of students were already on U.S. campuses and working their way through programs–and fewer of those students left than in previous years.

And while the drop in new international students is small as a piece of the overall population, it could be signaling the start of a larger decline, Witherell said.

The IIE conducted an additional online survey of 500 U.S. higher education institutions, which found that they reported an average 7 percent decline in new students. If that is correct and the trend continues, it may not be long before U.S. institutions start to see an overall drop in the number of foreign students, she said.

Officials with the institute cited a number of “global and local economic conditions” for tamping down the number of new students coming from abroad.

One factor is a scaling down of large government scholarship programs in Saudi Arabia and Brazil. Bot of those nations have been big contributors of students coming to the United States.

Another contributor to the weak numbers of new enrollees is that more students are seeking “optional practical training” focused on their academic fields after obtaining degrees in the United States. That means those students are staying longer in the U.S. higher education system.

The country sending the most students to the United States, by far, is China, which had about 350,000 students, an increase of 7 percent over the previous year. See the chart, below:


Number of foreign enrollees in U.S. collleges

India was the second-biggest country of origin, with more than 186,000 students, a number that rose by 12 percent over 2015-16.

South Korea was third, home country to nearly 59,000 students studying in the U.S., though its numbers dropped by 4 percent. The enrollments for Saudi Arabia and Brazil plummeted by 14 percent and 32 percent, respectively.

The flattening in the number of foreign enrollees was also evident in the results of the separate online survey conducted by the institute and nine other education associations.

The colleges and universities responding cited an average decrease of 7 percent in the number of newly enrolled students.

On individual U.S. campuses, however, the enrollments from foreign students were all over the map. Forty-five percent of campuses said they had drops in the number of new enrollees for the fall of 2017. But 31 percent reported increases, and 24 percent reported no change, according to the report.

The intense interest among many families in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and other regions to send their children to college in the United States is a major factor driving demand for education in those countries. In particular, those families have sought private education, tutoring, and resources that will prepare their children for the demands of college-entrance exams and study abroad.

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2 thoughts on “Number of Foreign Students Studying in U.S. Colleges Shows Signs of ‘Flattening’

  1. Sadly, Trump’s contentious issue is yet one more thing that makes being an international student can be lonely and difficult, on top of our already complex culture and language. Assimilation assistance must come from numerous sources to aid these young people embarking on their life’s journey. Most struggle in their efforts and need guidance from schools’ international departments, immigration protection, host families, concerned neighbors and fellow students, and even informative books to extend a cultural helping hand so we all have a win-win situation. An award-winning worldwide book/ebook that might be of help to anyone coming to the US is “What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” Used in foreign Fulbright student programs and endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it identifies “foreigners” who became successful in the US and how they’ve contributed to our society, including students. A chapter on education explains how cope with a confusing new culture, friendship process and daunting classroom differences. Some stay after graduation. It has chapters that explain how US businesses operate and how to get a job (which differs from most countries), a must for those who want to work with/for an American firm here or overseas. It also has chapters that identify the most common English grammar and speech problems foreigners have and tips for easily overcoming them, the number one stumbling block they say they have to succeeding here. Good luck to all wherever you study or wherever you come from, because that is the TRUE spirit of the American PEOPLE, not a few in government who have the loudest voice!

  2. Good to know this information. I really appreciate the author Sean Cavanagh showing the chart with the number of Foreign Students Studying in U.S. Colleges and Universities. We all know that the USA hosts the most number of international students in the world because of their Quality education, multicultural environment, unique curriculum, and many more opportunities there. Nowadays, there are most students searching are for online writing assistance to make their academic paper and journal writing, In this term, I especially recommend them to check this free plagiarism checker software that can help to enhance their writing quality and uniqueness. Have a Good Day!

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