Report: International Student Enrollment Shows Signs of Flattening

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The number of international students studying at US colleges and universities hit an all-time high of 1.08 million during the 2016-17 academic year.

But data captured in the most recent Open Doors report suggests that those numbers are beginning to flatten after more than a decade of continued growth.

“While the overall number of international students studying in the United States has increased, the number of new international students — those enrolled at a US institution for the first time in fall 2016, declined by nearly 10,000 students to about 291,000, a 3 percent decrease from the previous year,” according to the report, which is published annually by the Institute of International Education. “This is the first time that these numbers have declined in the 12 years since Open Doors has reported new enrollments.”

The decrease can be traced to a variety of factors, including “a mix of global and local economic conditions, and in some cases expanded higher education opportunities at home and declining populations,” the report notes.

“As more countries become active hosts of international students and implement national strategies to attract them, the competition for top global talent in higher education and the workforce will only intensify,” IIE President Allan E. Goodman said in a press release. “…(I)t is critical for US institutions to set strategic goals and be proactive in reaching out to students and families in a wide range of countries in the coming year, and for the United States to keep its academic doors open to students from all over the world.”

Other top findings from this year’s report include:

  • China and India remain the leading countries of origin, with individuals from the two countries accounting for roughly half of all international students studying in the states.
  • International students brought nearly $39 billion to the US economy in 2016, according to the US Department of Commerce.
  • American students are also increasingly seeking international education opportunities. More than 325,300 US students studied abroad for academic credit in 2015-16. The United Kingdom remains the leading destination for American students, followed by Italy, Spain, France, and Germany.

Explore data from the new report, view NACAC’s international education webpage, and see related research from NACAC’s State of College Admission.

Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at mstegmeir@nacacnet.org.

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