Why US Schools will see a Decline in Fall 2017 in International Students

By Dean Hoke

During the past few weeks a number of articles and reports have been published concerning international student enrollment in US higher education institutions. The two studies are: “Shifting Tides: Understanding International Student Yield for fall 2017,” conducted by the Institute of International Education and Data Sources: Admission Yields of Prospective International Graduate Students: A First Look” conducted by the Council of Graduate Schools. Both studies provide important insights into the higher education community. The third item is a story from the Washington Post dated July 10th titled “Overseas students would face close scrutiny under proposal floated at DHS”. also speaks to the importance of the future of international students attending in the United States.

The studies present results which seem to confirm international student enrollment for 2017 is at best flat and more likely predicting a 2-5% decline which reverses a decade trend of increased new international student enrollment in undergraduate and graduate degree programs. The data also states that in particular Texas will have a 5-15% decline in new international students while the other three largest states with international students California, New York, and Massachusetts will hold steady.

Why the likely enrollment decline is widely debated in the higher education community, I believe there are four critical reasons for a decline:

  1. Increased competition for International students

 The United States is finding competition from other countries such as Australia, Canada, and Europe. Regulations for students to enter the country for academic study have been eased and the cost to attend is competitive or in many cases is less expensive. Also many of schools outside the US are now perceived by prospective students and parents as good or nearly as good quality of a United States R2 or R3 institution.

  1. Immigration Ban of 6 Nations

 President Trump has issued an Executive Order banning citizens of 6 nations to enter the United States. It is currently partially in place and waiting for a fall decision of the US Supreme Court. If the ban is put fully in place it will impact about 14,000 students could be affected from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen on international student population. In pure numbers, the loss is not numerically significant. However the immigration ban has sent a signal to Muslim students from the Middle East, Africa and Asia and may well be having a chilling effect on potential students beginning 2017 and the upcoming years. 

  1. Tightening of H-1B visa programs

H-1B visa program allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ up to 65,000 foreign workers in specialty occupations. In addition, another 20,000 foreign nationals holding a master’s or higher degree from U.S. universities may receive the H-1B visa.

Excluded from the ceiling are all H-1B non-immigrants who work at (but not necessarily for) universities, non-profit research facilities associated with universities, and government research facilities.

President Trump signed on April 18th a “Buy American, Hire American” Executive Order which sets broad policy intentions directing federal agencies to propose reforms to the H-1B visa system. This has caused concerns among international students especially in STEMS majors who intended to work in the US usually with multi-national firms for 1-3 years after graduation. The H-1B program has helped attract top-level international students to US universities and to US corporations. This Executive Order may have a smaller effect in the Fall 2017 enrollments but be a major factor beginning Fall 2018.

  1. Student and Parental Concerns

The 2017 IIE survey asked about concerns students have regarding coming to the United States. Responses from the Middle East and Indian population stand out.

  • Middle East: 41% of the potential students expressed concern about being welcomed in the US
  • Middle East: 23% stated their concern for their physical safety.
  • India: 31% of the potential students expressed concern about being welcomed in the US
  • India: 80% stated their concern for their physical safety.

Texas, which in the past has enrolled many Indian and Middle East students, is experiencing the largest drop in applications. Articles in US and international papers, which interview students and parents, express concerns about potential

violence, intimidation, or discrimination. Whether there is an increase in these areas of concern, the data is not clear but clearly the perception is there.

Potential New Regulations for Student Visa’s Raises Concerns

In addition to the four reasons above a possible new change in federal regulation would further increase student decline. The Washington Post on July 10th filed a story titled Overseas students would face close scrutiny under proposal floated at DHS in which they report, “Senior officials at the Department of Homeland Security are floating a proposal that would require foreign students to re-apply for permission to stay in the United States every year, a controversial move that would create new costs and paperwork for thousands of visa holders from China, India and other nations, according to two federal officials with direct knowledge of the discussions.” The article further states, “The officials say the proposal seeks to enhance national security by more closely monitoring the students.”

Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for the Association of American Universities, a former deputy assistant secretary of homeland security in the Obama administration and a former assistant ICE director was asked his opinion of the proposal. He called the policy “both a policy and logistical nightmare.” The DHS and the State Department “simply don’t have enough counselors and immigration personnel to properly administer a change to the visa program like the one proposed,” Ribeiro said. “It would also have a tremendous chilling effect on students who would have to spend more time doing paperwork than studying.”

This potential change in regulations whether the program is implemented or not, will have a negative effect on those students who are considering coming to United States universities beginning 2018.

Dean Hoke is Co-Founder and North America Managing Partner of Edu Alliance, a higher education consulting firm with offices in Bloomington Indiana and Abu Dhabi United Arab Emirates. 

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