According to a new report from the National Science Foundation, “Science and Engineering Indicators,” the number of international students in the U.S. fell by 2.2 percent at the undergraduate level and 5.5 percent at the graduate level from fall 2016 to 2017.

This study somewhat contradicts the “Open Doors: International Enrollments,”  study conducted in February of 2017, which reported overall growth.  The “Open Doors” study was spearheaded by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers by (AACRAO), partneing with higher-education associations, including, Institute of International Education (IIE), the International Association for College Admission Counseling, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, and NAFSA (Association of International Educators), together with the College Board and the National Association for College Admissions Counseling.

The difference in the NSF study and the “Open Doors” study is that the former is based on government-held student visa data. This means it excludes students participating in optional practical training, which is a program that allows international students to stay and work in the US for up to three years after graduating, sponsored by the university they are attending.

The “Open Doors” study, on the other hand, took a broader approach surveying over 250 college and universities on  reguarding information on international students enrollments.  The study concluded that almost 40% of U.S. colleges saw declines in applications from international students. However, on the other hand, 35% of the schools polled experienced an increase, and 27% reported no change at all.

With the current presidential administration’s immigration band from certain Middle Eastern countries, it may not be a surprise that the greatest declines in applications were from students originating from Middle Eastern countries.

In addition, institutions reported that applications from India and China were also been impacted. Open Doors 2016 indicates that these two countries currently make up 47% of our international student enrollment, with almost half a million Indian and Chinese students studying in the US.  More enrollment statistics follows:

  • 26% of institutions reported undergraduate application declines from India, and 25% reported undergraduate application declines from China
  • 32% of institutions reported graduate application declines from China, and 15% have reported graduate application declines from India

According to NAFSA, the decline in part was attributed to concerns among international educators regarding the current political climate in America and the urgent need for the United States to enact comprehensive immigration reform and to develop other proactive government policies and strategies to ensure the country remains globally competitive. Survey families reported that their top concerns included:

  • Perception of a rise in student visa denials at U.S. embassies and consulates in China, India and Nepal’
  • Perception that the climate in the U.S. is now less welcoming to individuals from other countries
  • Concerns that benefits and restrictions around visas could change, especially around the ability to travel, re-entry after travel and employment opportunities
  • Concerns that the executive order travel ban might expand to include additional countries

Although many schools reported declines, apparently it did not adversely affect the economic contributions made to the US by international students. The latest analysis finds that the 1,078,822 international students studying at U.S. colleges, and universities contributed $36.9 billion and supported more than 450,000 jobs to the U.S. economy during the 2016-2017 academic year.  In fact, the number of international student enrollments grew from approximately 975,000 in 2015 and from 1,043,839 in 2016.

“As we continue to acknowledge the indisputable fact that international students contribute to the U.S. economy more each year, we cannot underestimate their immeasurable academic and cultural contributions to America’s colleges, universities, and local communities,” said NAFSA Executive Director and CEO Marlene M. Johnson. “International students build bridges between the United States and other countries, bring global perspectives into U.S. classrooms and research labs, and support U.S. innovation through science and engineering coursework.”

However, according to NASFA, despite the annual increase of economic benefits, the United States continues to experience a decline in market share of international students. While the number of internationally mobile students has doubled over the past decade, the U.S. share of international students decreased by 10 percent, according to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development and Project Atlas data.

The US states that benefited most economically include; California, New York, and Massachusetts saw the largest benefits from spending by these students and their families on living expenses, tuition, and fees. Further analysis shows that three U.S. jobs are created or supported for every seven enrolled international students, by spending in the following sectors:

  • Higher education
  • Accommodation
  • Dining
  • Retail
  • Transportation
  • Telecommunications
  • Health insurance

When it comes to the STEM fields of study, the newest survey finding and highlights from the NSF study are as follows:

  • At the undergraduate level, the number of international students increased in Computer Sciences (11 percent) and mathematics (5 percent) and declined in engineering (-5 percent), social sciences (-3 percent) and nonscience and engineering fields (-4 percent), from 2016 to 2017
  • The top five countries sending international science and engineering undergraduates to the U.S. in fall 2017 were China, Saudi Arabia, India, South Korea and Kuwait. From fall 2016 to 2017, the number of undergraduates studying science and engineering increased from China (3 percent), India (11 percent) and Kuwait (4 percent), while the number decreased from Saudi Arabia (-18 percent) and South Korea (-7 percent)
  • At the graduate level, the number of international students decreased in the computer sciences (-12.9 percent) and engineering (-7.6 percent) between fall 2016 and fall 2017. The number of international students increased in mathematics (by 14.6 percent), and remained fairly stable in other science and engineering fields
  • The top countries sending international science and engineering graduate students to the U.S. were China and India — which together account for 69 percent of all international graduate students in science and engineering fields — followed by Iran, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan. From 2016 to 2017 the number of graduate science and engineering students increased from China (4 percent) and Taiwan (5 percent), and decreased from India (-19 percent), Saudi Arabia (-11 percent), Iran (-1 percent) and South Korea (-1 percent)

Furthermore, the chart below from Indiana University has more information on international student economy…