Will the United States continue to enroll more international students by 2020?
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, international students contributed nearly $40 billion to the U.S. economy in 2016 and supported more than 450,000 jobs. Dr. Dick Startz, an economics professor at the University of Santa Barbara, puts the figure even higher at $50 billion.
According to the Institute for International Education the United States has led the world in the number of enrolled international students since records have been compiled.
However, there is ample evidence to suggest that this may be changing. The number of international students enrolled on U.S. colleges and universities declined by four percent between 2016 and 2017. On the graduate level, the number of international students enrolled in science and engineering decreased by 14,730, or six percent between 2016 and 2017.
The latest statistics from the State Department indicate a 17 percent decline in 2017 in the number of F-1 visas issued to international students, a 28 percent decline in the number of visas granted to Indian students and a 24 percent decline in visas issued to Chinese students. A combined 78,000 ewer international students were granted visas in 2017 compared with 2016.
The reasons for the decline are many: increased competition from other countries, especially Canada, Australia, China and Southeast Asian countries. The U.S. Muslim travel ban, greater scrutiny by consular officials of student visa applicants, uncertainty about the regulations for international students to work after graduation under the Optional Practical Training program, difficulty to obtain H-1B visas and the uncertainty over potentially new regulations that may limit the number of visas granted to Chinese students. (In 2016-17 Chinese students accounted for a third of all international students studying in the United States and contributed $ 12 billion to the U.S. economy.)
Many colleges and universities in the United States rely heavily on the income from international students to subsidize national students to meet enrollment and financial goals. The schools with brand name recognition will likely continue to enroll the number of foreign students they want or need. But second and third-tier institutions, both public and private, are most likely to experience declines in the number of international students enrolling on their campuses.
I, for one, believe that in time the United States will lose, or share, the number one spot with other countries who are aggressively and successfully enrolling a greater share of internationally mobile students. China, with nearly a half million students enrolled on Chinese campuses today and with the One Belt One Road educational initiatives in countries worldwide, may, in time, take over the number one spot in international student enrollments.