International Students Are Coming Back to U.S. Colleges
After the Trump Slump, top U.S. schools are seeing a rebound in applications from abroad—with one very big exception
On the long list of Donald Trump’s dubious accomplishments as President, there’s one you might have missed: an unprecedented decline in applications from foreign students seeking to attend U.S. colleges and grad schools.
The U.S. has long been the top destination for international students. About one million international students are currently enrolled in colleges and universities here — more than twice the number studying in the second and third top destination countries. But thanks to a toxic combination of racist and xenophobic rhetoric, travel bans, and student visa restrictions, international applications to U.S. schools have declined during every year of the Trump administration, starting in the 2016–2017 academic year.
In addition to bringing a global perspective to U.S. campuses, foreign students contribute about $40 billion a year to the US economy, creating three jobs for every seven international students who come to study here.
With the pandemic, the bottom fell out: for the fall 2020 semester, enrollments of new international students were down 43% from 2019, according to a November 2020 survey of more than 700 U.S. higher education institutions by the nonprofit Institute for International Education. A February survey by the Council of Graduate Schools found that first-time enrollment of international graduate students dropped a similar, and unprecedented, 39% from fall 2019 to fall 2020.
At what cost? The direct and indirect impact of international students on the U.S. economy has been well studied. In addition to bringing a global perspective to U.S. campuses, foreign students contribute about $40 billion a year to the US economy, creating three jobs for every seven international students who come to study here, according to advocacy group NAFSA: Association of International Educators. (During the 2019–2020 academic year, the total economic contribution from international students…