International students are valuable to supporting revenue growth for colleges and universities and increasing diversity on campus—but these students aren’t attending U.S. colleges at the rates they used to. For example, at one Midwestern university, international student enrollment fell 10% last year, leaving an almost $1 million hole in the school’s budget, reports Stephan Bisaha for KCUR.
But that university isn’t alone. International student enrollment rates have fallen since the 2016 presidential election by as much as 30% to 50% at some institutions (though others have maintained or increased their international enrollment). And some prospective international students have begun expressing concerns about their safety and whether they will be welcomed onto U.S. campuses.
“If you have an administration that is sending signals to immigrants within this country and sending an ‘America first’ message, which can be easily perceived as ‘America only,’ it’s not surprising that students are re-evaluating whether this is the place where they’ll be able to achieve their academic dream,” explains Jill Welsh, the deputy executive director of public policy at the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers.
One student, Pooja Odedra, arrived in the United States from India to study in Washington, D.C., but transferred to Butler Community College near Wichita, Kansas because of the discrimination and harassment she endured off-campus in the district. “It does make me feel insecure and question if I should be here, if some other country would be better,” she says.
Odedra also worries about whether she will be able to get a work visa after graduation. She mentions that the visa process is particularly challenging for international students, noting that a number of her peers in India were denied F-1 student visas after the 2016 election and decided to study elsewhere.
The number of student visas issued by the U.S. State Department dropped 27% in 2016, then fell another 17% during the first year of the Trump administration, likely due to both an increase in visa rejections and a decrease in visa applications.
“It’s kind of depressing,” says Vince Altum, executive director for international education at Wichita State University. “You go through all this work to recruit the students that are excited about coming to Wichita and then they go through a three-minute interview in their home country, they’re denied a visa and their dreams are basically shattered at that point.”
On top of the political climate, other factors could also be influencing international student enrollment, like growing competition from universities in students’ home countries and rising tuition costs in the United States.
At Wichita State, campus leaders are working to improve their enrollment rates with strategies that include reducing international tuition by as much as a third for certain qualified students and recruiting international student transfers from community colleges. “The pie of international students in the United States is definitely shrinking,” Altum notes. “So in order to maintain our share, we have to work a lot harder to make sure even we get the same number” (Bisaha, KCUR, 6/18).