Survey Examines International Student Enrollment Amid Pandemic

Despite recent concerns about new international student enrollment at US colleges and universities, nearly all universities (91 percent) that enrolled international students over the summer anticipate that those students will remain through fall 2020, according to survey findings in a new report from the Institute of International Education (IIE).

IIE surveyed 502 institutions about their summer and fall plans following COVID-19 disruptions. The survey informed the organization’s third report, which is part of its COVID-19 snapshot survey series.

According to the survey, 50 percent of the institutions reported fewer international applicants for fall 2020 than in previous years. Decreases in applications may be due to the economic impact of Covid-19, which is driving students—US and international—to consider other academic options or gap years. The decrease may also reflect students’ preferences to wait for economic stability before deciding to apply.

Among the institutions surveyed, 286 indicated that a total of 57,555 new international students had committed to their institutions; an additional 4,488 had already deferred to spring 2021 or beyond at the time the data was collected.

Due to the uncertainties around students’ ability to come to the US, however, institutions are offering several options. Most institutions are offering students the ability to defer their enrollment to spring 2021 (87 percent) or to enroll online through distance education (78 percent). Even though virtual enrollment will be the reality for many students this fall, the report warns of some long-term challenges when implementing virtual enrollment: decreases in enrollment (75 percent); issues accessing online courses (68 percent); and, an increase in withdrawals (48 percent).

While many international students are still considering enrolling in a US institution, their decision will depend on what options institutions will offer to students unable to travel to the US this fall.

Tiziana G. Marchante is NACAC’s project coordinator for educational content & policy. You can reach her at tmarchante@nacacnet.org.

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