Six Reasons Why the United States will Continue to lose international student market share

What do I know? — Montaigne

I suspect that many readers of this article will either dismiss the premise that colleges and universities in the United States will continue to lose international student market share or dispute the facts I list. Some may hope that the decline in international student enrollments in the United States for the fall 2017 semester, was just a blip; a one-off. Still others will blame the decline on the outcome of the 2016 election.

The fact is that for several years the United States was losing its share of the international student market. Last year the number of new foreign students declined an average of 7 percent.  According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center the number of domestic undergraduate students decreased 224,000, or 1 percent.  Was this one of the reasons why Moody’s changed its credit outlook for U.S. higher education to “negative” from “stable?”

The stakes are high. International student enrollment in the United States supplies $39 billion in revenue and supports 400 jobs.

Let’s examine some facts

In 2001, 28 percent of all international students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. By 2014, the figure was 22 percent.

In 2015-16, international student enrollment in the U.S. increased by 7 percent from the prior year. But that was down from a 10 percent increase.

In 2014-15, 304,040 Chinese students studied in the United States, a 10.8 percent increase from the previous year. However, in 2013-14, the increase was 21.4 percent.

Why I believe the U.S. will continue to lose international market share:

Asian Pivot

Countries with the fastest growing economies, populations and a growing middle class in Asia, like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam will dominate economic growth in the region. The governments in these countries have made education a priority and have invested heavily in the sector. The result has been to create a political and economic “infrastructure” in those counties that supports higher education enrollments and regional education hub growth.


Part of China’s higher education initiatives is to become a major importer of international students.  One example of China’s higher education expansion was the founding of the Asian Universities Alliance on April 29, 2017. Joining Tsinghua University, were several academic powerhouses in the region, including Peking University, the University of Tokyo, Seoul National University, the National University of Singapore and the University of Malaysia.

Chinese colleges and universities now enroll more students from Africa than the United States and Britain combined.

2016 Election

A great deal can and will be written about the implications of the election of Donald Trump on higher education both in the U.S. and worldwide. The current perception of the U.S. around the world is a country unwelcoming to foreign students. Perception becomes reality and it will take several years to unpack the implications of the election and travel bans.

International 2017-18 “winners”

According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, enrollments of foreign students soared in the fall term for students from China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Japan and Brazil. There are 270,000 new students studying in Canada, a 22 percent increase over the previous year. There are 350,000 international students, in total, studying on Canadian campuses.

International student enrollment increased 6 percent in Germany in the fall semester. International students now make up more than 12 percent of the country’s student population.

For the fall 2017 semester, more than 700,000 students from more than 190 countries enrolled on Australian campuses, an increase of more than 14 percent over the previous year.

National policies and enrollment targets

In June, 2017, the British Council reported the following international enrollment targets for the following countries:

China – 500,000 by 2020; Australia – 720,000 by 2025, Canada- 450,000 by 2022; New Zealand 143,000 by 2025

Taiwan- 58,000 by 2019; South Korea, -200,000 by 2023; Malaysia 250,000 by 2025; Japan- 300,000 by 2020;


There will probably be no greater impact on worldwide higher education than the integration of technology into educational delivery methods. The internet has rendered geography irrelevant and digital options, especially in India and certain countries in Africa, are changing the way higher education is consumed.

The high cost of studying in the U.S. and the reluctance of many U.S. colleges and universities to embrace online learning and MOOCs will continue to erode America’s market share of the globally mobile student.


The biggest threat, in my opinion, to future international student enrollments in the U.S. is a reluctance on the part of many college and university presidents, deans and enrollment managers to realize and take seriously that international student mobility is dominated by the options and choices students have.

We can either succumb to change or manage it. The choice is ours.


This entry was posted in Colleges, 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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