5 Trends That Define U.S. International Education in 2022

The United States remains the number one study destination for international students. 


According to a survey by the IIE, students are drawn to the United States because of its high-quality education, qualifications, and degrees. Aside from that, students believe that a U.S. education can help enhance their future career opportunities. 

Key Takeaways

  • STEM and business remain the most popular fields of studies for foreign students in the US.
  • The international student market is becoming more competitive, increasing competition between the US and other countries such as the UK, Canada, China, and Australia.
  • A policy change in the US will increase foreign students that are eligible to pursue a 24-month OPT extension in the US.
  • From 2020 to 2021, hybrid learning has become the top choice of instruction for many US institutions.


However, despite being number one, the United States has been experiencing a decrease in the number of international students in the past years. 


In addition to that, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected past trends in international education. In fact, many education systems have made significant shifts in learning, and student well-being and communication have become a priority for students and institutions. 


With the changing atmosphere in U.S. international education, it is important that various stakeholders remain up to date with various trends affecting the sector to help them create better and more informed decisions, especially when it comes to international student recruitment.  


Here are the top 5 trends we are likely to witness in U.S. international education in 2022 and beyond. 

Popularity of STEM and Business Courses

Currently, the majority of the international students in the United States are taking STEM and business courses


In fact, In 2020-2021, more than 145,600 international students took Business and Management, more than 190,500 took Engineering, and over 182,100 took Math and Computer Science.

In 2022 and the coming years, it is most likely that this trend in the United States is here to stay because of the career opportunities that await STEM graduates in the country. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many STEM jobs in the United States pay higher than the median annual wage in the country. Also, STEM jobs are expected to grow more in the coming years. 


In addition to that, current policy changes in the United States are being introduced to attract more scientists and researchers into the country. 


Those policy changes will allow: 


  • The creation of new fields of studies in STEM
  • Allow STEM graduates to extend their training and connect with domestic employers in the United States

Competitive Global Market

The United States remains the top choice for many international students. In fact, in the academic year of 2020-2021, and aidt the pandemic, the country recorded over 914,000 international students studying in U.S. institutions. 


However, despite the big number, it’s the biggest drop the country has experienced as a host to international students. In fact, it’s a 15 percent drop since the 2019-2020 academic year. However, even before the pandemic, the United States had already been experiencing a decrease in its international students. Between academic year 2018-2019, and 2019-2020, for example, the country experienced a 1.8 percent drop. 

One contributing factor to this is the increasing competition from other countries such as Canada, Australia, China, and the UK. In 2019, each of those countries hosted at least more than 420,000 international students. The following year, those numbers increased. 


The decrease in the number of international students in the United States, and many going to other countries, can also be attributed to the Trump administration’s restrictive policies on visa application and the country’s highly polarized views on immigration. Meanwhile, other countries such as Canada have made it easier for international students to process their study permits, and study in the country. 

OPT as a Vital Factor in Student Recruitment

For international students under an F-1 visa, they are eligible to pursue Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows them to pursue temporary employment from a company that’s related to their major. 


In 2016/2017, there were around 175,895 international students in the US who took OPT. In 2020/2021, that number has increased to 203,885, or 22.3% of the international students in the United States. 

A vital factor for this increase is the introduction of a 24-month STEM-OPT Extension by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2016. In 2022, the Department of Homeland Security updated this program and added 22-qualifying fields of study. This means, more international students taking STEM are now eligible to pursue a 24-month OPT extension in the United States.


Moreover, this is good news for international students who want to increase their chances of working in the United States. In turn, the country can better retain more talents in its workforce.

Hybrid Learning

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of changes to the education sector in the United States. While a lot of institutions have transitioned to online learning at the onset of the pandemic, recent data from the IIE have shown that it is not a popular choice among U.S. students. Between 2020 to 2022, the hybrid model of teaching, which combines face-to-face and virtual learning, has become a popular choice. 


In fall 2020, for example, among the responding institutions IIE surveyed, only 11 percent used virtual instructions only, while 88 percent used the hybrid model of instruction. Only 2 percent engaged in in-person instruction. 


Meanwhile, in fall 2021, although the number of in-person instructions increased to 27 percent, the majority of the institutions (around 73 percent) chose to use a hybrid model when teaching. 


Institutions using virtual instruction only have dropped to 1 percent.


Those changes are thanks in large to the COVID-19 vaccine rollouts happening across the world, which have resulted in the easing of border restrictions and the resumption of face-to-face classes in the United States.


The United States is facing many challenges right now, from a decreasing number of international students enrolling in the country, to increasing competition with other study destinations in terms of student recruitment, and the continuing threat of COVID-19. 


However, despite those challenges, the United States remains steadfast in its position as the leader in global education and remains a strong contender. 


In addition to that, to help revitalize the sector, the Biden administration is also increasing its efforts to entice more international students to choose the United States by giving them more opportunities to work and train in the country. What’s more, institutions are also continuously adapting to meet the challenges the pandemic brings. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)

MSM VP Global Suneetha Qureshi

MSM President-Global Marketing Office (GMO)

Suneetha has more than 10 years of experience in the international education sector. As president of MSM GMO, she fortifies its business development outreach globally, particularly in the face of MSM’s foray in edtech-based recruitment via MSM Unify. She preserves the premium, value-adding services provided to each GMO partner institution, including dedicated teams on the ground, agent management, lead generation and inquiry management, application pre-screening, and student and parent support through pioneering pre-departure briefing sessions.


She has an impeccable track record of successfully launching the representative offices in Asia and Africa of many North American and European higher education institutions. Her key strengths include hiring, training, and developing teams as evidenced by the successful results of the dedicated in-country college and university client teams.

Suneetha also has taken the lead in developing several initiatives at MSM, including building robust standard operating procedures, the Rise ‘n Shine team engagement platform, and the organization’s data analytics and audit segments.


Anderson, S. (2022, January 21). DHS makes more international students eligible for STEM OPT. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/stuartanderson/2022/01/21/dhs-makes-more-international-students-eligible-for-stem-opt/?sh=68631d907051


Boak, J. (2022, January 22). US unveils changes to attract foreign science, tech students. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/science-technology-international-students-engineering-9849c942cdf96553218984a529ea7e92

CanadIM. (n.d.). Student direct stream (SDS) Canada. https://www.canadim.com/study/become-an-international-student/study-permits/study-direct-stream/


Forster, J. & Obst, D. (n.d). Perceptions of European higher education in third countries: outcomes of a stud by the Academic Cooperation Association (ACA). IIE. https://www.iie.org/Research-and-Insights/publications/International-Students-in-the-United-States

Martel, M. (2021). Fall 2021 international student enrollment snapshot. IIE. https://www.iie.org/Research-and-Insights/Publications/Fall-2021-International-Student-Enrollment-Snapshot

Homeland Security Department. (2022, January 21). Update to the Department of Homeland Security designated degree program list. Federal Register. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2022/01/21/2022-01188/update-to-the-department-of-homeland-security-stem-designated-degree-program-list


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