Visa Crunch

International Students Return to US Universities But Enrolment Still Below Pre-Pandemic Level

According to a recent survey, International students are returning to US institutions in greater numbers this year, but the resurgence has yet to compensate for last year’s historic drops as Covid-19 continues to impede academic exchange.

As per survey findings released November 15 by the Institute of Overseas Education, American colleges and universities reported a 4% annual rise in international students this autumn. However, this followed a 15% drop last year, the largest drop since the organization began publishing data in 1948. The recovery is stronger than many universities expected over the summer when the delta variant spiked.

Universities and government authorities in the United States are hoping that this year’s increase represents the start of long-term recovery. As foreign travel increases, there is hope that college enrollment will exceed pre-pandemic levels. “We expect a surge following the pandemic,” Matthew Lussenhop, an acting US Assistant Secretary of State, told reporters.

This year’s increase indicates that international students “continue to value a US education and remain committed to pursuing studies in the United States,” Lussenhop added.

As per the institute, 70 per cent of US institutions witnessed an increase in international students this fall, while 20 per cent saw a reduction and 10 per cent remained flat. This is based on a preliminary study of more than 800 schools in the United States. The non-profit intends to release complete countrywide figures next year. However, it also highlights ongoing challenges, like visa long delays and some students’ unwillingness to study overseas during the pandemic.

Overall, there was a 68 per cent gain in students enrolling from overseas this year, compared to a 46 per cent reduction the previous year. Even a minor improvement is welcome news for many institutions. University authorities in the United States were concerned that the Delta variant would kill any prospects of a resurgence. However, for many, this did not occur.

According to the reports claimed by the US embassies, a record number of 55,000 students were awarded the visa, despite starting the process two months late due to Covid-19. At least some of the rise can be attributed to new students who planned to visit the United States last year but had to postpone their plans owing to the pandemic.

More than 10,000 international students registered at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign this autumn, virtually offsetting a 28 per cent drop from last year. “What we’re seeing now is a return to normal for our international populations,” said Andy Borst, the university’s head of undergraduate admissions. We just had this pent-up demand,” Borst said. “A lot of Big Ten schools saw increases beyond what we were expecting.”

The recovery is being powered by new undergraduates, with those from India increasing by roughly 70% above pre-pandemic levels. Admissions at certain institutions with well-known brands in other countries have surpassed the previous year’s levels. This fall, more than 17,000 international students registered at New York University, a 14 per cent increase over last year.

The school data reported, admissions from overseas at the University of Rochester, another top destination for international students in New York, increased by 70% over 2019 levels, led by a spike in graduate students. According to Jennifer Black, the university’s head of international admissions, “many students had to cope with visa backlogs at US embassies and consulates, not to mention expensive flights and cancellations”. By this fall, the overwhelming majority of US colleges had returned to in-person study, although not all international students were physically present on campus.

According to the poll, almost 65 per cent of all international students enrolled in US universities this year were taking classes on campus.

Some institutions were able to avert further enrollment declines because of the greater flexibility of online learning. Those experiencing visa difficulties can now arrive midway through the semester or later and study online from overseas in the interim. Following last year’s change to remote learning, several schools have continued to offer online programs to students throughout the world, allowing thousands to remain enrolled from a distance. For a variety of reasons, international students are seen as valuable assets to American colleges.

Colleges claim that they contribute to a broad mix of cultures and points of view on campus. After graduation, many graduates go on to work in high-demand fields. Furthermore, several universities rely on the financial benefits of international students, who often pay higher tuition rates. Although many universities averted the second year of falls, there is still fear that the upturn may be limited to particular types of institutions. Community colleges experienced significantly sharper drops than four-year universities last year, with a 24 per cent drop nationwide.

Many also credit President Joe Biden with sending a message that America welcomes international students. The administration published a statement in July promising a “renewed” compliance with international education, stating it will endeavour to make foreign students feel at home.

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