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US Sees 43 Percent Drop in New International Student Enrollment


While the US hosted over one million international students for the fifth consecutive year in 2019/2020, the pandemic caused a 43 percent decline in new foreign student enrollment in the fall of 2020.

A survey by the Institute of International Education (IIE) further found that the overall international student enrollment in the US, whether in-person or abroad, dropped by 16 percent.

Additionally, the 700 colleges and universities surveyed indicated that over 40,000 international students deferred their enrollment to future semesters. This concerning slump speaks volumes about what awaits US higher education.

Foreign students offer tremendous economic value to the education sector. During the 2019/2020 academic year, international students contributed $40 billion to the US economy and supported over 400,000 jobs, according to NAFSA’s 2019 analysis.

Higher Education Resilience

COVID-19 has compromised student mobility and safety. New travel policies prevented international students from entering the US as travel bans were enforced. First-time students also failed to receive visas because the Department of State suspended routine nonimmigrant visa services in March.

These protocols drastically restricted options for foreign students. While well-regarded institutions such as Michigan State University and the University of Texas have experienced a significant drop in international student enrollment, US higher education is displaying resilience.

Necessary adjustments were made to address the needs of international students. Schools have employed online classes with modified course schedules and modes of instruction. Most institutions surveyed by IIE have also stated their commitment to reaching more international students through virtual events, tours, and other recruitment efforts.

Despite this unprecedented situation in American higher education, international students are expected to return once the pandemic eases. Department of State Office of Global Educational Programs Director Anthony Koliha believes the US education sector will be ready when this happens.

“The great thing about the United States in higher education is we have such a breadth and depth of institutions, and so we have the capacity to respond to that surge,” he told U.S. News and World Report.

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