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International Education is a dynamic field witnessing experiential growth which can be explained in reference to two different points – First, a comprehensive approach to education which prepares the students to be active and engaged in the interconnected world, and Second, referring to education which surpasses national borders by exchange of people who travel to study, work or volunteer as part of a program.


Both these reference points are focused on developing global competencies which foster the individuals to possess such qualities and abilities which may help them take a critical decision over a problem, understand and explain facts, opinions, and ideas, work in groups with people of other countries, and participate in free dialogues.


This research attempts to give a brief idea about the current trends of international education in USA, the challenges faced by American institutions, and scope and opportunities available to the USA institutions to increase international student enrollment.

USA: A Popular Destination For International Students

The United States has been the top destination for international students due to its quality higher education, welcoming culture, and open labor market. Even today, the United States is the country of choice for the largest group of international students and hosting more than 1.1 million international students out of 4.6 million enrolled worldwide as per the data of 2017.

Higher Education Graduation in the USA – Facts & Figures

  1. Higher education in the USA is influenced by three factors – decentralization, capitalism by assuming higher quality education through competition, and promotion of equal opportunity and social mobility.
  2. University education in the USA is diverse with students from different cultures, gender, and ethnic groups.
  3. Transfer agreements in the USA permit students to study abroad and allows them to study at their convenience.
  4. Below are the graphs showing trends of international students’ enrolment in the past (actual) and future (projected) in the USA under different educational programs

College and University – Facts & Figures

The USA is home to some of the world’s top colleges and universities offering undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate programs. Below is the graph showing growth in the number of higher education institutions in the USA 

Enrollment Numbers and Trends

The number of international students enrolled in the USA institutions has experienced strong growth since 1950s. The figures have doubled every decade leading to a high rise in the enrollment numbers till 2017. The number of foreign students has also increased as a share of the total population enrolled in the USA higher education from 1% in 1950 to 5% in 2017.


Despite the historical growth in international student enrollment in the USA, the recent statistics have shown a drop in numbers. As per a recent survey at more than USA institutions, there has been a steep decline of 7 percent in new international student enrollment in fall 2017. The reasons for such decline have been noted as below –


  1. Visa delays and denials
  2. Cost of USA higher education
  3. Changes in social and political climate
  4. Competition at the global level
  5. Concerns about post-study work permit

USA’s Student Visa Data – Real Indicator of International Enrollment

During the period of March 2017 to March 2018, the numbers of F and M international students decreased by 0.5 percent, from 1,208,039 in March 2017 to 1,201,829 in March 2018.


However, there was an increase in the J-1 exchange visitors by 4 percent. There were 1,019,333 (0.8 percent increase from March 2017) degree-seeking international students who were enrolled either in the associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s program` in the United States’ higher education system.


The largest growth and decline was experienced in the doctorate and associate degrees, where doctorate program saw an increase of 4 percent, while associate degree programs saw a 5 percent fall. Students seeking bachelor’s and master’s degree remained stable where numbers in bachelor’s program grew by less than a percentage point and in the master’s program grew by 1 just percent.


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International Students from Around the World – Facts & Figures

The F and M student visas are allotted to students from across the globe with more than 229 countries. Asia has been the largest source of international students for the USA in the past, the latest trends has something different to showcase. Only South America, Australia/Pacific Islands, and Africa saw a rise in the number of students enrolled in the USA. The figure below shows the absolute trend of international students recruitment in the USA based on different regions

Opportunity for American Higher Education Institutions

As per the description and data specified in the above sections of this research report, it can be analyzed that the USA has been a significant contributor to the global economy by being a home to several top colleges and universities in the world. There has been the largest population of international students who have earned their degrees in the USA. However, as per the recent trends, there is a noticeable change in the international students’ enrollment in the USA which may cause ill-effects to the reputation of the country.


Now, there is a need to evaluate market trends and understand how international students can be attracted by American institutions. However, with several political and social issues which causing a decline in students’ enrollment numbers in the USA; there is a need to adopt a robust strategy which can foster the growth of internationalization in the USA education system. Here are certain facts about the same 

Countries of Origin

Table 1: Top 10 states by international student population


Table 2: Top 10 origin countries of international student population


The figures above give an exact idea about the countries which are the significant contributor to USA’s educational growth. However, it has been observed recently that the numbers are declining from the top-most countries only, i.e., China and India. The USA institutions must adopt strategies to promote their services and educational programs in these Asian countries as well as all such parts of the world from where they get higher number of students enrolled.

Study Programs

The figures above demonstrate the interest areas of the international students. The majority of the students prefer to pursue education in the field of engineering, business and management, and mathematics. The USA institutions must promote education in those disciplines which are preferred by the students to attract international recruitment.

Projections – Enrollment in Degree-Granting Institutions

As per the report by NCES (National Center for Education Statistics), the total enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions is expected to rise by 3 percent between 2016 and 2027. These institutes offer baccalaureate, associate’s, or higher degree and participate in federal financial aid programs.


Description –
  1. Total enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions increased 19 percent from 2002 to 2016 (16.6 million versus 19.8 million), a period of 14 years; and
  2. It is projected to increase 3 percent, to 20.5 million, from 2016 to 2027, a period of 11 years.

Overcoming the Challenges

The major reason behind the decline in international student numbers during the recent past is the social and political climate in the USA. The earlier perception of a welcoming environment in the USA has been distorted due to the travel bans, immigration policies, personal safety due to gun violence, and race relations.


Institutions need to pay attention towards the culture and environment they are offering to the students to convince them that USA still has the same welcoming environment for the immigrants. The latest reports have shown a negative impact of the social and political environment over the international students which is a challenge for institutions to overcome.

Current Trends in the USA Higher Education Institutions

Institutions are responding to concerns regarding the shifting of social and political situation through multiple forms of outreach to the university campus and broader community.


The majority of institutions report working closely with international students on campus through alerting students about changes in U.S. policies and increasing the level of outreach to provide information to current and prospective students


USA higher education institutions are also publicly advocating for international students by issuing public statements supporting international students on campus and releasing new social media campaigns.


The use of #YouAreWelcomeHere in the social media campaigns has been adopted by over 300 higher education institutions of the USA in support of international students to promote that they are welcome.

Response of USA Institutions to the Current Social and Political Climate


International students are a great contributor to the research and entrepreneurial leadership of the United States. As per NAFSA, international students support over 455,000 USA jobs and have added over $42.4 billion dollars to the USA’s economy in the year 2017. Although the number of international student enrollment continued to demonstrate signs of flattening, the overall numbers of international students in the United States are not expected to reduce sharply anytime soon.


The USA institutions have observed that the current social and political environment is impacting the enrollment positively as well as negatively. The survey respondents have observed that this social and political climate has negatively affected the attitude and perceptions of the international students. The environment is not more tolerable for the students due to which they have started looking for various other countries to study abroad.


The USA institutions further cite various other reasons due to which there has been a decline in students’ enrollment. Although there has been a minor decline in the figures, the USA higher education institutions remain committed to recruiting and welcoming international students. This ensures that the decline in the figures would be balanced in the coming years.


Many institutions are already encouraging international students through robust recruitment and outreach efforts. With concerns about maintaining and increasing students’ enrollment from Asia, USA institutions are focusing on countries including China, India and Vietnam. The USA institutions have a vast market and greater opportunities to expand international education; they just need to be more focused and adopt strategies which can help them overcome the current challenges and maintain the same reputation all over again.


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