2019 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange


2019 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange – Any surprises?


Since 1948 the Institute of International Education, in collaboration with the United States’ Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, has been gathering data and publishing statistics on the number of international students enrolling on American colleges and universities, their countries of origin, and the number of Americans studying abroad. On November 19, 2019 the Institute published statistics for the 2018-19 academic year.

Newspapers like the South China Morning Post, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe all reported the following:

For the third year in a row, enrollment in American colleges and universities decreased at all academic levels. Undergraduate students declined by 2.4%. Graduate student enrollment declined by 1.3% and the number of international non-degree students declined by 5 %. Only the numbers for Optional Practical Training increased, with a 9.6 % increase over the previous year.

Any surprises?

History of decline

In 1970, the percentage of international students enrolling in American colleges and universities was 36.7%. By 2001, the percentage was 28 and by 2017 the figure declined to 24%.

In 2015-16, international student enrollment in the United States increased by 7% from the prior year but that was a slowdown in growth from a 10% increase in 2014.

In 2016-17, international student enrollment in the United States increased 3.4%. The following year, the increase was 1.5 percent, the slowest growth since 2002 and was mostly due to an increase in the number of international students participating in Optional Practical Training, which increased by 15.8%.

In 2018, enrollment of new international students in the United States decreased 6.3 % in undergraduate programs, and 5.5% in graduate degree programs. Chinese students, who make up one-third of all international student enrollments in the United States, increased 3.6 %. However, in the previous year, the growth in Chinese student enrollments was 6.8%. Indian students, who make up nearly a fifth of all international studying in the United States, increased 5.4%. However, in the previous year, the growth in Indian student enrollments was 12.3%.

2019 International enrollment decline

A survey of international student enrollments for fall 2019 revealed a 0.9% decline in new enrollments. Approximately 51% of the more than 500 institutions surveyed reported decreases in new international student enrollments. 42% reported increases and 7% reported no change.

Recruiting agents in China and India report a softening of interest from prospective students to study in the United States.

Reasons for decline

What are all these prior statistics telling American international deans and educators? Simply, the decline and proportion of international students selecting to study in the United States has been in decline for several years. The 2019 report should not come as a surprise to anyone who follows the economic, political, and technological worldwide changes of the past several years.

 The rest of the world has been creating quality international educational infrastructures that are less expensive than many schools in the United States. The rest of the world makes it easier for international students to obtain visas to study and work after graduation. In many parts of the world, the environment is safer and more welcoming than in the United States.

Many countries with robust international outreach programs are safer than many states in America. As of November 19,2019 there were 371 mass shootings in the United States. In a 2017 Open Doors report, Paul Schulmann, research manager for the Institute of International Education, reported that 80% of Indian institutions surveyed indicated safety was a concern.

Many countries have national programs to encourage international students to study. For example, when I searched for data for the University of Alberta in Canada, I first received information about the benefits of studying in Canada.

This year’s report lists efforts of the State Department and its educational offices worldwide to promote study in the United States. However, on January 3, 2019, the State Department announced that it was closing all of its offices in China that promote American education.

 IIE research manager, Paul Schulman, wrote:” The political environment in the United States plays a role in declining international student enrollment, not just in terms of student perceptions, but also in the public policies that are manifestation of this environment.”

A survey conducted by Royall &Company in 2017 revealed that one-third of prospective international students were less interested in studying in the United States because of the political climate and 74% of surveyed admission officers agreed that travel bans and negative rhetoric have made it more difficult to recruit international students.

Financial implications

International students contribute more than $45 billion to the United States’ economy and directly or indirectly support more than 450,000 jobs. Between 8 and 10% of total net tuition comes from international students’ tuition and fees.


Higher education enrollment is projected to reach 332 million by 2030, an increase of 56%, or 120 million. How many international students will decide to enroll in the United States in the future?

 Much will depend on the political environment in the United States and efforts to strengthen America’s “soft power” around the world. Much will depend on international deans and recruiters to re-visit international enrollment plans and decide to recruit students using the strategic use of technology, creating international alliances and diversifying their recruitment portfolios. 

The decline in international students coming to the United States to study represents a shift not only in the perception of the value of an American degree but also a shift in the value of the educational opportunities in many other countries.

The headwinds of change can no longer de denied. 

Will we be surprised next year?


This entry was posted in Colleges, Foreign Students, International Education, International students, Universities by Marguerite Dennis. Bookmark the permalink.

About Marguerite Dennis

Marguerite Dennis has been recruiting internationally for over 25 years, first at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and then at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts. During that time she was responsible for establishing a branch campus for Suffolk University in Dakar, Senegal and Madrid, Spain. Marguerite increased the international student population at Suffolk University by 193% from 1993 to 2011 and increased the number of study abroad programs by 135%, from 20 to 47. She monitored the recruitment programs for Suffolk University in 20 countries and hired a network of 10 international educational consultants. She signed agreements in Viet Nam, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Germany, Mexico, France and Argentina.

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