Recent data shows that the number of new international students dropped by 6.6 percent at U.S. universities in fall 2017, raising concerns as to what’s causing the continuing decline.

According to the latest Open Doors survey, new enrollments fell 5.5 percent for graduate students, 6.3 percent for undergraduates, and 9.7 percent for non-degree students from the academic year 2016-2017 to 2017-2018.

Some observers blame the “Trump factor” as the main force that scares away international students. Amid America’s hostile political climate and President Trump’s policies and anti-immigration rhetoric, many international students are now thinking twice before going to the United States to study.

Many US universities blame Trump for the decline in international student enrollment, highlighting his travel ban as one of the main culprits. University leaders stress that Trump’s travel ban is a clear message of exclusion to millions of prospective international students.

While universities and critics strongly put the blame on the Trump’s effect, the Institute of International Education and the US State Department pointed out that the recent data reflect the choices of students who were considering to go the US universities the year before Trump steps in. According to these organizations, the main factors that drive the continuous decline are the scale-back of government’s scholarship programs in some countries like Saudi Arabia, the rising cost of higher education, and the emerging competition for international students among different countries.

On the other side of the coin, the overall number of international students enrolled in US universities has increased by 1.5 percent, tallying to 1.09 million. This increase is primarily attributed to the extension of the Optional Practical Training program, a US’ initiative that enables students to stay and work in the country. Science and engineering students have now the rights to stay in America for three years instead of just a year during the Obama administration. As a result, America becomes a more desirable option for students. The number of students who are currently enjoying this privilege increased by 15.8 percent.

Meanwhile, some international student recruiters note that the four largest senders of international students to the US have their own unique explanation to the decline. For instance, India is overly price-sensitive, making the cost of American higher education become a barrier within the rupee’s devaluation. China sees a decelerating growth, and many Chinese parents think that the value of US education is declining.

Many American universities have come out smarter and more aggressive in countering the data. Colleges have written letters to express their unwavering support for international education, while some have committed financial help for international students, such as additional housing. They also keep challenging the restrictive immigration rhetoric and even join court battles.

The White Hours officials have also shown some efforts to help reverse the narrative by publicly proving their genuine care and concern for international students. For instance, in May, Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce presented the University of Colorado Boulder with the President’s “E” Award for Exports. He commended the university for doubling its enrollment and for helping the country bring back its reputation in education once again.

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