Survey: Colleges Report Decline in International Student Enrollment


Preliminary figures from fall 2017 support earlier data showing that the number of international students studying in the US has flattened after more than a decade of growth.

American colleges and universities reported a 6.9 percent decrease in the number of new international students pursuing higher education in the US this fall, according to survey data released this week by the Institute for International Education (IIE).

The full picture of fall 2017 enrollments won’t be available for another year, when IIE releases its 2018 Open Doors report. But the early data — collected from 522 colleges and universities — provides insight into “how US higher education institutions are impacted by the shifting US landscape,” report authors note.

Compared to fall 2016 — which saw a 3 decrease in new international students — more institutions attribute this year’s decline to visa delays and denials, the costs of US higher education, and the US social and political climate.

In light of those challenges, many colleges and universities reported taking additional steps this year to recruit students from across the globe and ensure international students already studying in the US felt safe and supported, according to the report.

“Faced with a globally competitive environment to attract the brightest minds from around the world, institutions across the United States are working to create an inclusive environment that reiterates that international students are welcome here,” report authors note. “Colleges and universities may need to further strengthen their recruitment efforts, build their global brand, and find innovative ways to demonstrate that the United States is a welcoming place.”

The survey was conducted in September and October in cooperation with NACAC and eight other higher education organizations. Other top findings include:

  • Institutions expressed the most concern about recruiting students from the Middle East and North Africa, likely due to changes in the eligibility requirements of the Saudi Arabian government’s scholarship program and potential concerns about travel restrictions to the US.
  • Nearly half (46.7 percent) of responding institutions reported focusing recruitment efforts on international students already in the US, such as international high school students.
  • Institutions noted that international students from areas of conflict encountered difficulties in affording the costs of tuition and living expenses in the United States (79.8 percent) and obtaining a visa (77.9 percent).
  • More than half of colleges and universities (51.8 percent) reported that prospective students cited the current US social and political climate as a potential deterrent to US study. However, only 19.6 percent of colleges indicated that international students expressed the desire to leave or had left the United States due to the current climate.

Read the full 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

One thought on “Survey: Colleges Report Decline in International Student Enrollment”

  1. I assume that you have a breakdown by country? Living and Consulting in China re: U.S. College Admissions, I know there is no lack of growth of interest in the USA by mainland Chinese. If numbers are down, I am betting that the numbers are booming for Chinese applicants in our US high schools. That’s new in last couple of years. Chinese families tend not to notice politics of the USA – our current politics aren’t even acknowledged. U.S. trade-balnce with China doesn’t get a blip of concern. JSM

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