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Trump Effect: decline in new student enrolments in the US

In 2016-17, 62,537 Indian students got F1 visas to study in the US, down 16.43% from the previous year, according to the latest Open Doors report.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   14-11-2017
Photo by RyAwesome, used under CC license

The flow of new international students entering US colleges slowed last year and has continued to decline this fall, bucking a recent trend of scorching growth, said the annual Open Doors report released on Monday by the Institute of International Education.

India sent the second highest number of students, with 186,000 students in the United States last fall, up 12 percent. However, this expansion pales in comparison to the scorching 24.9 percent growth in the 2015-2016 academic year, and 29.4 percent growth in 2014-2015.

The Chinese total surpassed 350,000 in Fall 2016, up 7 percent from the previous year, according to the 2017 Open Doors report. The Saudi student total plunged 14 percent to 53,000, and the Brazilian total fell 32 percent, to 13,000. Both Saudi Arabia and Brazil have recently scaled back the number of government scholarships that had propelled many students to the US. 

This year’s Open Doors report arrived amid concerns that US President Donald Trump’s efforts to ban travelers from certain majority-Muslim countries and anti-immigrant stance are deterring international students.

New enrollment takes a hit

Indeed the Institute of International Education reported on Monday that the number of new students coming from abroad fell by an average of 7 percent at nearly 500 US colleges surveyed this fall. The snapshot survey of new foreign enrollment this fall was released alongside the institute’s annual Open Doors report, which tracks foreign students at 3,000 US schools.

The snapshot survey said colleges cited a mix of factors for this year’s decline. Increasing anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies of the Trump administration are scaring off international students from applying to US universities. A possible lack of jobs, along with steeper visa fees and delays are also dampening enthusiasm. The US, which has always been the gold standard in higher education, is also facing stiff competition from other big education markets like Canada, Britain, Australia, and Europe.

Half the schools responding to the survey said they are worried about perceptions of Trump’s America among international students. Most schools like Portland State University are reaching out to international students.

Wim Wiewel, president of Portland State University in Oregon, traveled to Hyderabad and New Delhi after his school saw a 37 percent reduction in applications from India for the new school year.

“I’d say the rhetoric and actual executive orders are definitely having a chilling effect,” said Wiewel, who travelled to Hyderabad to meet with ten students already admitted to his school’s graduate engineering programme.

Wiewel’s trip to Hyderabad came in April soon after residents of the city held funeral services for computer engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was killed by Adam W. Purinton, who yelled “Get out of my country,” before opening fire on two Indians at Austin’s Bar and Grill in a Kansas City suburb. A second Indian engineer Alok Madasani was also injured in the Kansas hate crime along with a white man who tried to stop the gunman.

“I tried to reassure Indian students that the university’s environment is still very safe and very welcoming to international students,” said Wiewel.

Allan E. Goodman, the president and CEO of the Institute of International Education, told The Washington Post on Monday that he is struck by two questions when he travels abroad: Does everybody in America have a gun? And does everybody in America pay full price for college? Safety and value for money, Goodman believes, are increasing priorities for foreign students.

“They’re not unreasonable questions,” Goodman told the Post. “They have nothing to do with whether you live in a red state or a blue state.”

Overall international enrollment at US institutions — counting continuing students as well as new ones — reached a high of 1.08 million in 2016. The new findings signal a slowing of growth, with a three percent increase compared to increases of 7 to 10 percent for the previous three years. Fresh foreign students’ enrolment actually dropped around 10,000 or 3 percent to about 291,000. Goodman pointed out that the total grew because “some of the continuing international students remained enrolled longer than in years past.” Except for a brief period after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, international enrollment at US schools has grown consistently for decades.

Foreign students pay the freight

Indian students contributed $6.54 billion to the US economy, according to data compiled in the 2017 Open Doors report. US colleges and universities have become increasingly dependent on that revenue. On an average, foreign and out of state students pay the full sticker price and wind up paying an extra $28,000to $30,000 a year and help US colleges plug the budget gaps caused by reductions in state funding. Public schools often charge international students two to three times what domestic students pay.

Most popular colleges

The top states for international students remained unchanged last year, with California topping the list followed by New York, Texas and Massachusetts. Illinois, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana were also popular destinations and each of these states saw increases in international students in the 2016-2017 academic year.

New York University (NYU) became the No. 1 host university for international students. This is the second year in a row that NYU has surpassed the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles which had been the leader for 12 years, according to the report. Arizona State University in Tempe with its popular Fulton Engineering School also saw high international enrollments.

Most popular courses

STEM courses continue to exert maximum pulling power among international students. The Open Doors survey found the most popular courses remain science, technology, engineering, mathematics, physical or life sciences, health professions, computer science, agriculture, business and management, and social studies.

Uttara Choudhury is a writer for Forbes India and The Wire. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London. 

Wondering whether to study in the US? Check out the links below!
Trump's travel ban affects 20,000 students, faculty in US colleges
Foreign student applications to US colleges up despite Trump policies
Trump revises travel ban, but US schools fret over damage
Open letter from the US to Indian students: #YouBelongHere
How Trump's election has affected my application decision
Harvard cancels admission offers to 10 students who shared obscene and racist memes
Why international students are important to the US
Trump's election victory - what you should and shouldn't worry about
Open Doors 2016: Indian students in US colleges up sharply by 25%


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