The number of new international students enrolling at U.S. colleges and universities for the 2017-18 school year declined by 6.6 percent from the prior year, according to new data from the annual Open Doors survey. The slowdown marked the second straight year of declines: new enrollments of international students had fallen by 3 percent in 2016-17, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.
The overall number of international students, however, increased by 1.5 percent in 2017-18—growth attributed to an Obama-era extension of the Optional Practical Training program, which allows graduates of U.S. colleges to remain on their student visas in order to stay on to work post-graduation.
What’s driving the downturn?
Some observers have said the declines in new international enrollments likely stem from the current U.S. political climate and Trump administration’s anti-globalism policies and rhetoric. The Chronicle cites a survey from EAB indicating that one-third of prospective international students “had less interest in studying in the United States because of the political climate.”
However, the U.S. State Department and the Institute of International Education, the organizations behind the Open Doors report, say the decline is more nuanced. They note that the trend varies by institution and reflects factors such as rising college costs and growing competition from programs in other countries.
Colleges and universities have expressed concern about the dip in new international student enrollments. International students not only increase diversity on campuses and enrich American students’ experience but also provide colleges with much-needed tuition, The Chronicle says, adding that “the slowdown in international students is especially harmful to regional public universities.”
Business schools attribute falling demand to drop in international applicants
U.S. News & World Report, meanwhile, points to the decline in international applications as the most significant factor behind waning demand for graduate business school programs. A recent survey of around 400 U.S. graduate business schools indicated that the respondents experienced a 6.6 percent decline in applications to their 2018 programs, compared with the year prior. The total number of international applications fell by 10.5 percent, compared with a 1.8 percent decrease in domestic applications.
Noting that the 2018 decreases were different in that they “not only affected mid-ranked B-schools, but also top-ranked B-schools,” U.S. News cites several reasons for the widespread downturn. A strong U.S. job market, cost concerns, and new business school offerings outside the U.S. all played a role, but U.S. News says the most significant factor is the change in federal immigration policy, combined with negative perceptions of the U.S. political climate.
Softening demand could unlock more scholarship dollars
Commenting on how the drop in application volume could affect business school applicants, MBA admissions experts predict that acceptance rates could increase at second-tier and smaller business schools. Marc Endrigat, director of MBA admissions at the University of Hawaii’s business school told U.S. News that schools also may be more inclined to boost scholarship dollars during years with fewer applications. Applicants “could find an MBA program made much more affordable through scholarships during a year when that program is receiving fewer applications,” he said.