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With Declining Domestic Students in the United States, International Education Provides Solutions

Many colleges and universities all over the world were forced to close their doors due to the global health crisis. The introduction of vaccines has renewed a call to open colleges and universities by Fall 2021. However, many expect that the effects of the health crisis and its consequent restrictions will likely be felt even during the succeeding academic years. 

Struggling with the temporary school closures and the transition to remote learning, many families simply chose to call 2020 a gap year for their children. One reason for this is the loss of employment of many parents which forced some students to abandon their studies. 

MSm Research -- Decline in International Students

Due to the uncertainties in terms of health and safety, some students did not enroll at all–and this is not only in the case of college students. The same scenario pervades in secondary schools as well.


Also, with the decline in the number of enrolled international students in the United States due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some institutions are reviewing their enrollment figures to see whether the number of domestic students will be able to provide resources to keep small colleges and universities operational.


Before the pandemic, there was a reported decline in the enrollment of international students because of the unfriendly immigration rules laid out by the Trump administration. Due to the many detrimental visa policies, schools saw a decrease in their international student population.


While the downtrend in college enrollment, including the international students, is not new or solely brought about by the pandemic, the unfortunate trend also reflects the hardships of secondary schools that are struggling to survive in recent months.  

So What’s in Store for the Future?

As domestic enrollment prospects for 2021 and beyond continue to be a wait-and-see kind of strategy due to COVID 19, higher education officials are  concerned about another issue that may have an adverse effect in future enrollments: the current low birth rate in the USA. 

The effects of low birth rate is impacting high school graduation rate in the United States and this problem  must be  discussed  head on.

Low Birth Rate Means Fewer Enrollees

According to the Herringer Report, the US birth rate has dipped to an all-time low, and projections show a potentially negative effect on schools where the number of public-school students could drop by 8.5 percent by 2028.

Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics in 2019 show that about 3.75 million babies were born in the US, down one percent from the prior year. The general fertility rate fell 2 percent to 58.2 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44, its lowest level since the government began tracking the figure in 1909.

Since the Great Recession in 2008, the US’ total fertility rate has fallen by almost 20 percent, which has resulted in double-digit high school graduation rates in the Northeastern United States. After 18 years, education analysts say schools can anticipate a sizable decline in prospective college students beginning in 2026 and beyond nationwide. While declining fertility has implications for the entire US economy, the education sector is poised to be one of the most affected sectors of society.

While it is impossible to foresee exactly how the numbers will unfold, it is all but sure that the reduction in fertility rates will create new pressures in higher education over the next  decade

The Implications of Low Birth Rate and Fewer High School Students

According to the study conducted by Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), total enrollment will diminish gradually. The projections for all 12 grades end after 2020. Prior to the major decline, the total number of students fell by only 1.4 percent, or roughly 600,000 students between 2015 to 2020.

In the WICHE data, the number of high school students is expected to fall by 6.8 percent or one million students from 15.4 million students in 2022 to 14.3 million students in 2028. Student enrollment through 2015 confirms that the number of first- and second-grade students has actually started to decline. And this does not bode well for higher education in the years to come.

US College Closures Due to Drop in High School Graduates

Many factors can cause colleges to struggle financially. However, over the last decade, enrollment has slipped as the number of high school graduates dropped, which has contributed to financial problems facing higher education institutions.


More than 50 public and nonprofit institutions have closed or merged since 2015, and experts expect to see more closures in the coming academic year. Some of the institutions that ceased operations due to low enrollment in the last five years were Grace University in Nebraska, Dowling College, Oregon’s Marylhurst University, and Green Mountain College in Vermont.


Colleges have lost hundreds of thousands of students since 2010 when undergraduate enrollment peaked at just above 18 million. That figure declined to 16.6 million in 2018. Nearly 600 institutions saw their enrollments drop more than a quarter in that period.


The fewer number of high school students is cited as the clear reason for the decline in college enrollees. This was culled from education data from the state of Ohio, one of the most affected states in the ongoing higher education financial crisis.  According to state and federal data, the number of high school students in Ohio has dropped by 3.6 percent from 124,299 in 2010 to 119,850 in 2019, which, of course, has led to fewer high school graduates.


Overall, in the United States, roughly 1,360 colleges and universities have seen declines in first-year fall enrollment since 2009. This includes around 800 four-year institutions. Nearly 30 percent of all four-year schools brought in less tuition revenue per student in 2017-18 than in 2009-10.


As the data show, the number of students from secondary institutions who will enter college will continue to decline, therefore, higher education institutions will be in for a truly rough time. And this is where international student recruitment comes in.

Reversing the Trend through International Student Recruitment

Since the number of  domestic  students is on the decline in the United States, the next logical step is to get students from other countries. It seems pretty straightforward, but is easier said than done.


Indeed, small- and medium-sized schools need to consider international recruitment as part of their overall recruitment. The truth is that there is a renewed interest to study in the United States due to Biden’s election as the 46th President and the United States remains one of the most preferred international education destinations. As such, we commonly see universities report their international enrollment data  because they monitor both the population and the tuition revenues coming from the international students carefully. 


Small- to medium-size colleges and universities cannot market and recruit internationally because they do not have the resources (finances as well as human resources)  to stage an effective campaign. The best way to incorporate international marketing and recruitment into an overall recruitment strategy is to partner with a reputable global marketing and recruitment  company with a worldwide reach. 

US International Secondary Student Trends

International secondary students in the United States represent a potential pipeline for future enrollment in US higher education. In the fall of 2019, more than 2,500 high schools across the United States enrolled 69,518 international students. This number represents a 6-percent decline in the number of students from the prior year and a 15-percent decline from the peak of international secondary student enrollment in 2016 when 81,981 international students enrolled in US high schools. These were all due to the Trump administration’s unfriendly policies,  however, I expect these numbers to reverse and increase with the new administration in Washington D.C.  

MSM Research - IIE
Source: Institute of International Education

According to education experts, increased immigration could still offset lower birth rates in the future. Although the numbers are also on the decline, this can be remedied through full-blown international student recruitment and marketing unlike the low birth rate problem that can only be reversed after decades of demographic shifts.


The entry of numerous foreign students into US schools whether in colleges or in secondary institutions can certainly stabilize the enrollment numbers and contribute to a balanced budget. They will keep the schools alive as the majority of international students are paying tuition fees in full. Indeed, international education to the rescue until the higher graduation rate is reversed upward. (DR. ALEX PARNIA)


#PartnerForLife #HigherEducation #StudentRecruitment #InternationalEducation #MSM

MSM Research_President, MSM USA

President, MSM USA

Dr. Alex Parnia brings more than 35 years of experience performing a variety of successful roles at various academic institutions as a faculty member, campus Dean, Vice-President of Marketing and Enrollment, Executive Vice- President, Provost, and President. He specializes in crafting innovative and scalable solutions and matrices to enable exponential revenue increases for academic institutions. His list of commendable triumphs is never-ending and he has also created leadership programs and taught management and business courses at various academic institutions.

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Adamy, J. (2020, May 20). U.S. Birthrates Fall to Record Low. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-birthrates-fall-to-record-low-11589947260

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