Nationwide, American colleges and universities saw a 4% annual increase in international students this fall, according to a study released Monday by the International Institute for Education. But it followed a 15% decline last year – the sharpest decline since the institute began publishing data in 1948.
You have successfully cast your vote
The rise is better than many college forecasts in the summer as the Delta variant grows. But it also reflects persistent barriers as visa backlogs persist and some students are reluctant to study abroad during the epidemic. University and U.S. officials expect this year’s growth to be the beginning of a long-term rebound. Colleges are expected to see an increase in their pre-epidemic levels as international travel ramps increase.
“We expect an increase in the aftermath of the epidemic,” Matthew Lucenhop, the acting assistant secretary of state for the United States, told reporters. This year’s growth indicates that international students are “committed to valuing U.S. education and studying in the United States,” he added.
Overall, 70% of U.S. colleges reported an increase in international students this fall, while 20% declined and remained at the 10% level, according to the institute. It is based on a preliminary survey of more than 800 U.S. schools. The nonprofit plans to issue nationwide data next year.
At least some of the growth has been due to new students who had hoped to come to the United States last year but their plans were delayed due to the epidemic. All told, there has been a 68% increase in newly enrolled international students this year, a dramatic increase compared to a 46% decrease last year.
For many schools, even a slight rise is a relief. Over the summer, U.S. university officials are concerned that the Delta variant will destroy any hope of a comeback. But for many it did not happen.
In August, US embassies and consulates in India reported that they had recently issued visas to a record 55,000 students, even after the process began two months late due to Covid-19. Chinese embassies say they have issued 85,000 student visas.
At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, more than 10,000 international students enrolled this fall, offsetting a decline of about 28% over last year.
“What we’re seeing now is a return to normalcy for our international population,” said Andy Borst, the university’s director of undergraduate admissions. The rebound is fueled by new graduates, where the pre-epidemic levels from India are about 70% higher.
“We had this unpleasant demand,” Borst said. “Many Big Ten schools have grown more than we expected.”
In some schools, including foreign big brands, enrollments have surpassed their 2019 figures. According to the school, more than 17,000 international students enrolled at New York University this fall, 14% more than in 2019.
At the University of Rochester, another top destination for international students in New York, enrollment from abroad increased by 70% compared to the 2019 level, due to an increase in graduate students, according to school data.
Most students were able to arrive on campus within the first week of the semester, but many worked with visa backlogs at US embassies and consulates, not to mention expensive flights and cancellations, said Jennifer Blask, head of international admissions at the university.
Most U.S. colleges have returned to private learning this fall, but not all international students are physically on campus. Since moving to distance education last year, many schools have continued to offer online classes to students abroad, so that thousands can stay enrolled from a distance.
Of all the international students enrolled in U.S. colleges this year, the survey found that about 65% are taking classes on campus.
For Chinese students arriving this semester, NYU is allowing them to use its academic center in Shanghai, which is traditionally for US students studying abroad. The university allowed international students to use its London and Abu Dhabi locations last year, but has since returned them to use for study abroad.
For some colleges, the new flexibility of online education has helped prevent further enrollment barriers. In the past, students at the University of San Francisco may be able to start this period one week late if they face visa or travel problems. Now, those facing visa delays can come halfway through or later and study online from abroad.
Faced with travel restrictions inside Vietnam, undergraduate student Vin Le could not arrive at Ho Chi Minh City Airport on time to start fall classes. Instead, he has been studying online for more than two months until he can get his first vaccine shot, which allows him to travel.
Taking classes online was challenging because of the time difference, he said, but the professors were “very helpful” and recorded their lectures to watch at any time. He graduated November 1 at the University of San Francisco.
International students are seen as important contributors to the U.S. campus for a variety of reasons. Colleges say they help provide a diverse mix of cultures and perspectives on campus. Many work in high demand after graduation. And some colleges rely on the financial benefits of international students, who usually take higher education rates.
Although many colleges have skipped the second year of the fall, there are concerns that the rise could be isolated to certain types of colleges. A new study found that last year, community colleges declined significantly more than the four-year universities that lagged behind by 24% nationwide.
Researchers are still analyzing this year’s data, but some are concerned that community colleges may lag behind.
There are also questions about whether the rebound will continue past this year. The need for new vaccines for foreign travelers may make it harder for some students to come here, and colleges are expecting continued competition from colleges in Australia, Canada and other countries seeking to increase their international population.
Yet many college officials are optimistic. More vaccines are being shipped abroad, and newly lifted travel bans promise to reduce travel barriers. Some credited President Joe Biden for sending a message that America wants students from abroad.
In July, the administration issued a statement promising a “new” commitment to international education, saying it would work to welcome foreign students.
Rachel Banks, senior director of public policy and legal strategy at the international education organization NAFSA, says this is a change from the Trump administration.
“In the last administration, there was a lot of negativity and negative rhetoric around international students,” Banks said. “Biden is now trying to telegraph the world that international students are interested in coming here.”
Read More Educational News
Keep Reading Latest Breaking News