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Declining International Students Enrollment Affects US Economy


Declining enrollment of international students in higher education institutions in the United States is affecting its fifth-largest service sector export, a new Association of International Educators (NAFSA) report revealed.

Titled Losing Talent: An Economic and Foreign Policy Risk America Can’t Ignore, the report emphasized the economic and foreign policy risk of declining enrollments in the country.

Quoting a U.S. Department of State Open Doors report published by the Institute of International Education, the NAFSA said there was a 6.6 percent decline in new international student enrollment in the 2017/18 academic year, up from 3.3 percent decline in the prior year.

The continuous two-year decline will also impact the U.S. economy as international students contribute billions of dollars every year. Last year, international students contributed $39 billion to the economy. During the 2017-2018, they either created or supported more than 455,000 jobs.

The drop in enrollments started in the 2016-2017 academic year when U.S. institutions saw 115,841 new international undergraduate enrollments, a decline of 3,421 students compared to the year before. The following year saw an even further slump with just 108,539 enrollments, another decline of 7,302 students.

According to NAFSA estimates, between fall 2016 and fall 2017 — the drop in enrollments cost the U.S. economy more than 40,000 jobs and $5.5 billion.

“We are losing our market share of international students and scholars, while many other countries are proactively introducing national policies and marketing strategies in order to attract these talented individuals,” the report said.

In 2017, the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) reported a record enrollment of 494,525 international students in Canadian institutions, surpassing the 450,000 target set by its government for 2022. Similarly, the United Kingdom hosted 442,375 international students in 2017, a 5 percent increase from the previous year.

The report attributes various reasons to the declining trend of international enrollments among which visa delays and denials tops the list, followed by the social and political environment, cost of tuition among others.

“University and industry leaders acknowledge that anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies contribute to a chilling effect on international study in the United States,” the report noted.

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