International student enrollments rebounding after years of declines, survey reports

U.S. colleges and universities expect to enroll more international students this fall, according to the Institute of International Education’s Spring 2022 Snapshot survey. The Institute of International Education (IIE) has released Snapshot Reports since early 2020 to evaluate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on enrollment trends at U.S. colleges and universities. Its 2022 survey of 559 U.S. higher education institutions explores how schools have rebounded from the pandemic and responded to other global crises. 

Related: International student enrollment on upswing after pandemic drop-off >

After downturn, positive signs for international enrollment

International student enrollment began to fall in 2016 and continued to slip. The pandemic exacerbated matters. With borders closed, and international air travel halted in 2020, the total number of international students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities fell by 16% for the fall 2020 semester, more than any other student demographic. New foreign student enrollment also dropped 43%.

Related: International students face ongoing uncertainty, travel restrictions >

However, international student enrollment increased by 4% as visa restrictions slowly lifted in fall 2021. And the new IIE data has officials “quite optimistic about the future of international students in the United States,” Mirka Martel, head of research for the institute, tells The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Sixty-five percent of colleges responding to IIE’s new survey said they saw an increase in applications from international students for the 2022-23 academic year, compared with 43% of respondents the previous year. Only 12% of colleges reported declines in international student applications, compared with 38% of institutions a year before.

Other key findings

The Chronicle highlights several other takeaways from the new IIE snapshot:

  • Virtual recruitment is here to stay. Even as 43% of colleges and universities report having resumed in-person recruitment for international students, nine in 10 respondents said they would continue online recruitment events globally.

Related: Digital recruitment, test-optional policies: Stopgaps for COVID-19 or lasting change? >

  • U.S. college students are cautiously beginning to restart study abroad programs. COVID-19 variants and waves had kept study-abroad participation relatively low in 2021. However, 58% of institutions told IIE they are offering study abroad programs in summer 2022.

Related: Visa, vaccine complexities await international students headed to U.S. campuses >

  • U.S. colleges are supporting victims of the war in Ukraine. IIE notes that many colleges are hosting international students from Ukraine and Russia and helping those affected by conflict to access mental health resources, counseling, housing, and emergency funding.

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