The challenges brought about by the pandemic resulted in a 15% drop in the total number of international students at U.S. universities from 2020 to 2021, according to the 2021 Open Doors Annual Report. The decrease started between 2019 and 2020, when global restrictions were implemented, and enrolments further shrank towards 2021.
This is the first academic year since 2014/15 where the U.S. had less than one million international students enrolling in their universities. The combined decline over the past two years resulted in a loss of US$12.1 billion.
According to Mirka Martel – Institute of International Education (IIE) Head of Research, Evaluation and Learning – these data sets include international students studying in person on U.S. campuses, taking classes online in the United States or abroad, or taking optional practical training. The report, produced by the IIE and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, was sourced with survey data from more than 3,000 colleges.
The Open Doors report also revealed that the number of new enrolments in U.S. universities dropped by a whopping 45.6% in the previous academic year.
Moreover, the largest sources of origin for international students in the U.S., namely China and India, have also sent fewer students in the past year.
China saw a 15% decrease in international students coming to the U.S., while the number of enrollees from India fell by 13%. Still, they remain the top two places of origin with 317,299 and 167,582 student enrollees, respectively.
Compared to other regions in the world, the % change in China and India are not too worrying. The largest declines were reported to come predominantly from Europe, Oceania, Greenland and the Middle East, with steep declines of over 15% in 2020/21.
With this drop in student numbers, what the future of international education in the U.S.?
The rebound of international education in the U.S.
While the fall in international student numbers in the past year was alarming, experts say it was not surprising, given the circumstances. But now that international travel restrictions in the U.S. are easing, is it safe to assume that international student enrolment numbers have started rising?
Despite the numbers above, the data still say yes.
The 2021 Open Doors Report included the 2021 Fall International Student Enrolment Snapshot, which shows us an optimistic result.
The snapshot revealed that among over 860 institutions, there is a 68% increase in the number of new international students enrolling for the first time at a U.S. institution in 2021-2022. This is a major leap from the staggering drop in Fall 2020.
Additionally, there is an increase of 4% in the overall number of enrolled international students. 70% of institutions noted that their new international student enrolments increased compared to 2020/21, and 10% stayed the same.
How is the U.S. supporting the return of international students?
To further boost the number of international student enrolments in the U.S., institutions continue to prioritise international student recruitment. According to the Open Doors report, 77% of institutions indicate that financial support for international recruitment is the same or higher than in previous years.
Institutions also continue to prioritise the recruitment of students from China and India, as they have consistently been the leading places of origin for international students enrolling in the U.S. in the past years.
Additionally, more and more U.S. institutions are also committed to having in-person study as restrictions ease. 27% of institutions allow in-person study only in 2021, as opposed to 2% in 2020. In 2021, 65% of international students study on campus.
Having face-to-face classes – or at least a hybrid setup – will help universities and colleges provide the best quality of education for students. This is especially considering that many international students enrol in STEM fields, which are best taught in person.
Matthew Lussenhop, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State says that the state expects a surge of international students following the pandemic. According to him, the increase in enrolment this year means that international students “continue to value a U.S. education and remain committed to pursuing studies in the United States.”
“As reiterated in the recent Joint Statement of Principles in Support of International Education by the US Departments of State and Education, the United States is strongly committed to international education as we continue to build back better,” Lussenhop says.
The 4% rebound has not made up for the historic declines last year, but as international travel normalises, there is hope that the numbers will further stabilise and eventually exceed pre-pandemic levels.
Until then, the U.S. government and higher education institutions will continue to do their part in ensuring that international students do not lose the opportunity to study in the U.S.
Accelerate by EduCo has partnered with over 70 U.S. institutions that open their doors to international students from any location. If you’re interested in partnering with us as a recruiter or an institution, don’t hesitate to contact us.