According to the report, while international student numbers in the US reaching an all-time high of 1,095,299 in 2018/19 – marking a 0.05% increase on the previous period – there was also drop (0.9%) in new student enrollments for the third year running.
Following the release of the data, an analysis by NAFSA revealed that international students contributed $41 billion and supported 458,290 jobs to the US economy during the 2018/19 academic year.
“Australia and Canada are reaping the rewards”
However, the figures represent just a 0.6% increase in job support and creation and a 3.8% increase in dollars contributed to the economy from the previous academic year.
And while nine states broke the $1 billion mark in contributions from international students, this is down from 10 in the previous period, according to NAFSA’s figures.
Commenting on the data, NAFSA executive director and CEO, Esther D. Brimmer, said the reports show the economic benefits of international students overall continue to increase annually despite the flattening of enrolment.
“[However], the growth rate of students choosing to study in the United States continues to decline while competitor countries experience double-digit growth,” she said, adding that NAFSA estimates the continued decline since 2016 has cost the economy $11.8bn and more than 65,000 jobs.
“This is the first year we have seen both a decline in new international student enrolment and flat overall enrolment. International educators in the US are going to extraordinary lengths to attract and recruit international students.
“However, these efforts are often in direct contrast to the anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies coming from government leaders,” Brimmer added.
According to Allan E. Goodman, president & CEO of the IIE, the cost of US higher education is a key factor in the decline in new enrolments – even more so than the impact of president Trump’s policies.
However, founding director for the Center for International Higher Education, Philip Altbach, told The PIE News that “‘Trumpism’ in its various manifestations” has played a role in the country’s slow but steady decline as the major power in international student mobility.
“[Other factors are] the inevitable rise in the quality of universities in other parts of the world [and] the increasingly active recruitment policies for international students elsewhere in the world – from China to Canada to Australia… these policies take advantages of America’s weakness,” he added.
Eddie West, assistant dean of International Strategy and Programs at San Diego State University added that the downward pressure on international enrolments in the US “reflects an awful lot of effort, savvy and in many cases governmental support” on the part of competitor countries.
“Australia and Canada are reaping the rewards of that work, and the UK likely will too notwithstanding Brexit, thanks in part to the re-establishment of post-study work,” West told The PIE.
“But that duly noted, our colleagues abroad should also be thanking their lucky stars that Donald Trump was elected US president. He’s a living, fire-breathing “You are not welcome here” campaign, and… by now I think the adverse impact [of his administration] is clear and becoming clearer.”
West also pointed out that as the number of Optional Practical Training participants continues to grow, when OPT participants are excluded from the tallies, there were just over 872,000 international students in the US.
“While the methodologies, timing and definitions may differ, Australia boasts being host to more than 880,000 international students. In this context, it will be interesting to see if media outlets in the States boast that the US is the leading host of international students.
“That’s arguably no longer the case because defining an OPT participant as a student makes no real sense,” West added.
Some international educators also voiced disappointment at the diminutive increase in the diversity of US students going abroad for mobility experiences.
According to the Open Doors, 30% of US study abroad students in 2017/18 identified as a member of a racial or ethnic minority group, up from 23.7% in 2012/13 and 18.2% in 2007/08.
“I think we as a field have much work to do”
“Despite our best efforts in the field, we continue to see small incremental percentage increases in the profile of US students going abroad for academic credit when looking at race and ethnicity as a characteristic,” said David Comp, assistant provost for Global Education at Columbia College Chicago.
“I think we as a field have much work to do to increase the numbers of all US students going abroad for academic credit.”
However, the figures were met with some positivity on social media, particularly in relation to an increase in educational exchange between nations.
“Exciting to see the 2019 Open Doors Report show educational exchange between New Zealand and the US at historic highs, with both the number of New Zealand students in the US and the number of US students in New Zealand growing,” read a tweet from the regional director of Education New Zealand, Amy Rutherford.
A tweet by the US Embassy in India also expressed delight at the increase in the number of the country’s students in the US.
“We are thrilled that Pakistan is one of the fastest-growing emerging market countries for international students to the United States,” read a post from the US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.
And in Ireland, director of University College Dublin Global, Douglas Proctor, tweeted that the country has risen to sixth most popular country for US study abroad, with 4.1% growth from 2016/17 to 2017/18.
“As Ireland’s Global University, UCD is proud to [host] many of these students,” he added.