The Institute of International Education (IIE) recently published data on international students in the U.S.   According to current enrollment trends, the total number of international students had risen by 1.5% from the previous academic year.   However, overall the U.S. higher education market continues to lose ground to its competitors.  The numbers tell us more about this alarming trend.

International Enrollment Trends

The trend of Overall International Student Number
Although the total number of international students studying in the United States has been grown since 2006/07, the percentage of growth has decreased since the 2014/15 academic year:

2017/18:  1.5%
2016/17:  3.4%
2015/16:  7.1%
2014/15: 10.0%

New International Enrollment Trends
The number of new international students in the United States declined last year.  From 2016/17, the carnage continued:

2017/18:  -6.6%
2016/17:  -3.3%

New International Enrollment by Academic Levels
Here is the percentage change correlating to academic levels from 2016/17:

Undergraduate: -6.3%
Graduate: -5.5%
Non-degree: -9.7% 

International Enrollment by Institutional Types
Here is IIE’s 2017/18 international student numbers breakdown by institutions:

Doctorate-granting Universities: 2.0%
Master’s Colleges and Universities: -1.1%
Baccalaureate Colleges: 2.8%
Associate’s Colleges: -2.0%
Special Focus Institutions: 9.7%

The growth of doctorate-granting universities is primarily driven by universities with the highest research activities, gained 3.3% during 2017/18.   However, universities with higher and moderate research activities experienced negative growth in international enrollment.

Trends in growth of specialized focus institutions vary by fields of study.   Two categories – Arts, Music, and Design Schools and Medical Schools and Centers – both enjoyed a double-digit growth.  On the contrary, faith-related institutions and law schools both experienced a sharp drop in international student numbers.  In the past, Engineering or Business related majors were among the most popular studies for international students.   Both categories had increased by 7.9% and 3.9% respectively from 2015/16.


We predict this downward spiral will continue for as long the United States promotes and maintains its hostile anti-immigration stance.   In addition to this trend,  the United States must also contend with low fertility rates and state budget cuts that only add more uncertainty to the future of U.S. higher education.  The U.S. risks much more than its position as the education Mecca of the world by discouraging the best and brightest minds from coming to America.

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