International student enrollment fell slightly in 2020-21, but trends are “in the right direction,” according to stakeholders such as the Presidents’ Alliance and NAFSA.
According to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program’s annual report on student trends, the number of international students on F-1 and M-1 visas in the United States has decreased by 1.2 percent. During the 2021 calendar year, there were 1,236,748 students in the country, according to records.
“We continue to see other countries, and especially Canada, opening up more opportunities for international students to come study,” Miriam Feldblum, executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, told The PIE News.
“That said, the data related to international students coming to the US for postsecondary education shows trends coming back, and I think the numbers will continue to recover,” she continued.
“Anecdotally, our members are reporting increases in applications from international students,” Joann Ng Hartmann, senior director for IEM-ISS Services and volunteer engagement at NAFSA also told The PIE.
“We are optimistic that international students will continue to choose the US as their top study destination knowing the richness of experiences and academic opportunities that the US offers,” she declared.
Every year, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement publishes a comprehensive report that examines the international student intake of the United States from three perspectives: students, schools, and states and territories. The 1.2 million+ active F-1 and M-1 students in the United States came from 224 countries and territories around the world.
Hartmann stated that while it is “encouraging to see the increase in diversity of countries potential students represent,” US institutions must be “strategic and intentional” in their Asian outreach. While Covid had a significant impact on international student enrollment in the United States, the SEVIS data is encouraging and reveals some noteworthy trends. Except for Asia and Australasia, all continents saw an increase in the number of students, demonstrating the diversity of locations from which students come.
After 2020, the number of international students coming to the United States from Europe increased by nearly 8%; North America increased by 5.3 percent, and South America sent 1.3 percent more students.
The greatest increase came from Africa, where 9.3 percent came to study in the United States in comparison to 2020 figures. Asia, on the other hand, saw a 3.8 percent decrease in the number of students choosing the United States as a study destination. Despite the decline in Asia, China had the world’s largest student cohort by country. The number of students dropped by more than 8.5 percent from the previous year, while the number of Indian students increased by more than 12 percent.
Australasia did send fewer students to the United States, with a 4.4 percent drop compared to 2020 and all countries included, including Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji, witnessed small drops in uptake.
“I think if we want to see numbers increase from China and Australasia, we need to continue to work on changing policies and creating a more welcoming environment,” Feldblum suggested.
“We need to ensure that Chinese students and scholars are welcomed, and not unfairly targeted due to xenophobia or misplaced security concerns. It has gotten better with this administration, but there are still concerns.”
The president of Dickinson College, which has an international student population of 12-15 percent of its student body, believes that the United States will be perceived more positively in the future.
“I think we’re perceived as a friendlier nation now than we were in recent years,” said John E Jones III.
“There was a metaphorical ‘not welcome’ sign on the country, and I think that was felt viscerally by students… we’re trying to make sure that everybody feels welcome again,” Jones added.
A further trend highlighted in the report was the regional depreciation and increases in student records – while the Western region, including the key study location of California, saw a 7.5 percent decline, all other regions saw an increase – including a 3.2 percent increase in the northeast, which is home to key Ivy League universities.
Despite the decline in the western region, California continues to have the highest single percentage of student records in the country, at 16.8 percent, which equates to a drop of nearly 19,000 students from its 2020 figure, at 208,257 student records in 2021. In addition, California has nearly double the number of SEVP-Certified schools in the country than the next largest contingent, New York, which has 480 to California’s 873 by 2021.
K-12 numbers were also included in the data – overall, the number of K-12 students coming to the US dropped by a significant 16 percent. K-12 international students are still minors, and parents were rightfully concerned about their children’s health, safety, and well-being during the pandemic, making them less willing to send their children to school thousands of miles away.
“The world continues to reopen, although hot spots still flare (e.g. current lockdowns in China), so hopeful that the worst of the Covid-related declines are behind us,” Hartmann said. “The world continues to reopen, although hot spots still flare (e.g. current lockdowns in China), so hopeful that the worst of the Covid-related declines are behind us,” she continued.
“In order to further increase enrolment numbers, we need a coordinated national strategy on recruitment like our competitors have.” Something NAFSA has been urging the Biden administration to introduce.
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