International Enrollment in the United States will experience a major decline due to COVID 19

International student group shot

By Dean Hoke, Managing Partner Edu Alliance Group, North America June 29, 2020.

The year 2020 has been an unprecedented time worldwide, and we are in the middle of a perfect storm. The COVID 19 pandemic has resulted in a devastating loss of life and damage to all economies. Higher education has not been spared.

Edu Alliance on June 6-12 surveyed university President’s and senior cabinet-level officers in which we asked the question, Do you expect at your university this fall a decline in enrolled international students? We received sixty-one (21.8%) responses representing eight countries and over 1.25 million students.

The charts below are the survey results from US institutions broken down between public and private.

Public decline

Private decline

Other organizations have been studying the potential decline in international students as well. Quacquarelli Symonds, better know as QS, a highly respected worldwide ranking service, published in June 2020, a worldwide study titled “How COVID 19 is Impacting Prospective International Students Across the Globe”. They received more than 19,000 responses from students since February 2020, asking how the coronavirus affected their plans to study abroad. Below are the responses to three key questions.

Has the coronavirus affected your plans to study abroad

Which of these best describes how the coronavirus has changed your plans to study abroad

How interested would you be in studying your degree online because of the coronavirus

International student numbers will decline significantly in US Universities in Fall 2020 – due to the pandemic related to travel, safety, and visa restrictions as well as changes in US immigration policies pertaining to student visas. It is our view it will take at least 4-5 years before international student enrollment will return to Fall 2019 levels no matter who is the President of the United States. Realistically we should expect a quicker rate of closures and consolidations in the private and public sectors. Even online courses and degree expansion cannot prevent it.

International students come because the US education brand is the gold standard in terms of quality and reputation. The world rankings groups such as QS show 151 of the top 1,000 universities are located in the United States. The quality of education, its research capacity, and job opportunities for its graduates are highly desired by students, parents, and employers. Of the 5.3 million international students worldwide, 860,000 are attending on US soil. There are also thousands of other students who attend US international branch campus (IBC) schools.

NAFSA (The Association of International Educators) estimates US schools spent more than $600 million in assisting international students and staff since March 2020 and will lose $3 billion from reduced foreign enrollment in the fall.

Educators try planning for every contingency, but I doubt any planning book exists on how to proceed when a pandemic hits.  As a friend of mine who has worked with the higher education community for over 50 years and is a university trustee for two institutions stated in a virtual conference, “the only thing you can do at the moment is to seek shelter and when the storm is over, dig out, and rebuild.”

US higher education institutions are putting maximum efforts to retain the international students who are in residing in the US. NAFSA states in its Financial Impact Survey Report highlighted that US institutions had lost nearly $1 billion due to reduced or canceled study abroad programs. They additionally spent approximately $638 million in aid on students and staff who remained on campus after classes moved online, and expects a $3 billion loss due to declining enrollment in the fall.  All conventional methods, including additional enhanced online courses, are being offered, but it will take some truly out of the box thinking.

Here is one example. The Pie News in a June 26 story titled “Universities consider charter flights for international students”  the University of Bolton located in the UK has made plans to fly in students from India, China, and before the new semester starts in September. Similar ideas have been made or are being considered by universities in Northern Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.

The use of chartered flight is one example, and it has the support of their respective governments, but private flights may not be feasible for your institution. Different thinking is now required, and higher education needs to be willing to take calculated risks.

What “Out of the Box” concepts is your university considering? Edu Alliance and your colleagues would like to hear your ideas.

cropped-edu-alliance-logo-square1.jpgEdu Alliance Group, Inc. (EAG) is an education consulting firm located in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and Bloomington, Indiana USA. We assist higher education institutions worldwide on a variety of mission critical projects. Our consultants are accomplished university / college leaders who share the benefit of their experience to diagnose and solve challenges.

EAG has provided consulting and successful solutions for higher education institutions in Australia, Egypt, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda,  United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

Edu Alliance offers higher education institutions a wide range of consulting services. If you are an organization that wants to know more how Edu-Alliance can best serve you, please contact us at 

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