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International students still keen to study in the US, despite political environment

A new survey has found that international students are still keen to attend US universities and colleges, although there are concerns about visa uncertainties and being unwelcome.
BY BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer |   07-07-2017
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When United States president Donald Trump announced a temporary travel ban in late January, soon after assuming office, academic leaders at hundreds of universities all over the US reacted sharply, saying it would shut out talent. Subsequently, the ban was halted by two district courts, revised, and partially upheld by the US Supreme Court two weeks ago after an appeal by the Trump administration. The Supreme Court will further review it later this year. Despite this chaotic roller-coaster ride, international student demand for higher studies in the US remains steady, according to a survey published yesterday by the Institute of International Education (IIE).

The survey, titled Shifting Tides: Understanding International Student Yield for Fall 2017, provides a snapshot of international student yield rates as of May 15, 2017. Yield refers to students who attend a college or university, as a percentage of the admitted student population. In the above survey, yield was calculated by dividing the number of admissions deposits received by the number of offers of admissions made in 165 institutions (not all programs require deposits, so institutions were also allowed to count students who had officially accepted offers without deposits). Of course, final admission yield can only be determined once students enroll on campus in the Fall.

Undergraduate student yield

The survey noted that “interest among international students remains steady overall, with no single trend evident across the broad range of US colleges and universities. Modest drops in yield at some institutions may be offset by steady or increased yield at other institutions.” It found that overall international undergraduate yield had dipped slightly from 26% in Fall 2016 to 24% in Fall 2017.

Texas yield drops 9 percentage points

The IIE survey noted that some institutions and locations were experiencing greater variations in international undergraduate yield than others. “Admissions and yield patterns in the top four host states – California, New York, Texas, and Massachusetts – appear to compare favorably to national patterns, with the exception of Texas,” the study noted. Yield rates remain steady at 22% in New York and 31% in Massachusetts. California institutions reported a slight increase in yield, which grew from 23% in Fall 2016 to 25% in Fall 2107. By contrast, Texas experienced a large decline, from 44% to 35% (although this is still higher than the national average).

A report in the Houston Chronicle, a leading Texas newspaper, noted, “Students from India, China, Iran and other countries have long flocked to Texas campuses to work with top professors and to earn a prestigious American degree. But this year, those students appear to be less enamored by the Lone Star State.” The Chronicle reported that international applications to Texas' four-year public universities had plummeted over the past year by at least 10,000, a 12.5% decrease from last Fall. It added: “The dramatic decline is a stark contrast to the 30% increase in applications from 2013 to 2016. At the University of Houston, for example, foreign applications dropped by 27%.”

The Chronicle cited analysts and campus administrators as saying that several factors were likely causing foreign students to look elsewhere, including a sluggish global economy and greater competition from other countries. But it added that “many bluntly point to President Donald Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric as significant, saying it is creating an unwelcoming environment.” The paper quoted Jeff Fuller, a former admissions director at the University of Houston who left his post in May, as saying, “US politics has made some international students uncomfortable.” It cited him as saying that potential foreign applicants' questions showed anxiety.

Graduate student yield

Regarding graduate student yield, the IIE report cited an independent survey by the Council of Graduate Schools in May 2017, saying that overall yield among international master’s students showed declines at 46% of the institutions that responded. Given that the large majority of international graduate students enter master’s degree programs, this could have implications for first-time enrollment of international graduate students for Fall 2017.

Concerns by students’ country of origin

The IIE report noted that concern about international student yield was widespread, and varied by students’ countries or regions of origin, several of which had seen substantial fluctuations in admission offers and yield. The report said: “Institutions are most highly concerned about whether admitted students from the Middle East will arrive on campus in the Fall… broad concerns still remain, including uncertainty about the outcome of the Supreme Court’s review of the travel ban case, which is scheduled to commence in October 2017, and extreme vetting processes of visa applicants. This uncertainty raises valid concerns as to whether students from the Middle East may be deterred from US study.”

The report noted that securing and maintaining a visa was cited as the top concern among these students, while feeling welcome in the US was an almost equal concern.

Survey findings suggested that Indian students had a high level of concern about potential study in the US: 80% of institutions said physical safety was the most pronounced concern for Indian students, and 31% of institutions indicated that feeling unwelcome was also a concern.

The survey noted that Chinese and other Asian students were mainly concerned with post-graduation employment opportunities and program affordability. Thirty percent of institutions reported that Asian students were concerned about obtaining a visa, with lower concern reported among Chinese students.

A Washington Post report quoted Rajika Bhandari of the Institute of International Education (IIE), which led the survey along with other higher-education associations, as saying: “The situation is not as dire as what had been predicted.”


The race for international students

The Washington Post report noted that more than a million students from overseas are pursuing a college education in the US, contributing more than $36 billion to the country’s economy.

A report by the US Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA) showed that the number of international students enrolled in US schools was 974,926 in 2015-16, up 10% from the previous academic year, and up by a whopping 89% from 15 years earlier. The top 10 countries sending students to the US were China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Brazil, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam and Mexico.

The report noted, “By 2025, the OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] forecasts that 8 million students will be globally mobile. This figure is up from just 2.1 million students in 2000.” In contrast to the nearly 5,000 US schools that have almost a million international students, the UK has just under half a million international students at around 160 schools.

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