The good news? Overall, the number of international students studying (and work-studying) in the U.S. continues to increase. In the most recent school year, they totaled 1,094,792 according to the latest numbers from the Institute of International Education (IIE).
The bad news? The number of new international students at colleges and universities fell more than 6 percent in the past school year, according to IIE’s latest Open Doors report—an annual release that details which countries are sending to students in the U.S., such as where they are attending and what states are hosting the most international students. The 2017-2018 school year marked the third consecutive year in which the number of new student enrollment decline.
And the worst news? Anecdotal accounts from some U.S. colleges and universities tell that some prospective students are staying away from studying in America because of President Donald Trump and his association with anti-immigration sentiment in the United States (“While other countries work hard to attract international students, we are managing to send a message that talented foreigners are not welcome here, just when we most need them,” Ángel Cabrera, president of George Mason University, told the Washington Post in a statement responding to the Open Doors report) as well as difficulties and delays in securing visas to the U.S.; and increased competition from colleges and universities in other countries.
Why is this news so important to the tour and travel industry? The United States remains the top host of international students globally. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, international students made a significant financial impact on the United States in 2017, contributing $42.4 billion to the U.S. economy through tuition, room and board—though no hard data are available on the subject, it is generally acknowledged that most international students in the U.S. are “cash customers”—and other expenses. And most students have family members who visit them at least once a year.
Consider the student market from China: According to the Open Doors report, the number of Chinese students studying in the U.S. last year totaled 363,341. Were Chinese students a stand-alone market, it would have ranked Number 23 among overseas source markets last year—just ahead of Denmark and just behind Ecuador. If each of these students generated another two visitors from home, it would mean that (students included) U.S. universities attract 1.09 million Chinese visitors per year.
How could overall student numbers increase, while the numbers of new student enrollments decline by nearly 7 percent? Current gains in the total number of international students are due primarily to increased participation in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which allows international students to practice their skills in the United States for up to 12 months during or after they complete their academic programs, or up to 36 months for students who have earned a degree in STEM fields. OPT participation grew by 15.8 percent in 2017/18. Among enrolled students, declines were seen primarily at the graduate and non-degree levels.
Following are several tables with the data to answer the most frequently asked questions about the numbers foreign students and where they go to school in the United States.