International Student Enrollment on the Rise

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Gelyna Price
Gelyna Price

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International student enrollment at US universities has been on the rise, for at least the past decade; and this year is no different. In 2016, the total number of international college and university students at US schools rose by 7.1 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal. This rise allowed the total number to break over one million for the first time. Therefore, we think it’s about time to discuss the trend of international student enrollment in US colleges.

Where are international students applying from?

Almost a third of these students come from one country. Can you guess which it is? Here’s a hint: it’s not India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, or Canada… (which are, respectively, ranked second through fifth in terms of sending most students to the United States).

If you haven’t guessed it already, the country that contributes the highest percentage of international students in the US is… China. The other four countries mentioned make up just under a third of international students combined; and the final 38.3% is made up of students from all other countries.

What motivates students to apply abroad?

It isn’t entirely clear what’s driving this consistent rise in foreign students in the US. However, consider that international students can pay up to three times as much as domestic students for the same tuition. Therefore, the extra funds from foreign students can be a welcome relief for colleges that are struggling financially.

Do American students apply elsewhere, too?

Comparing the rates of international college students studying in the US to American students studying abroad shows some perhaps surprising trends. While the latter percentage has also been steadily increasing every year, it’s doing so at a much slower rate — in the 2% to 3% per year range instead of the 6% to 7% range of international students coming to the US.

This is a particularly interesting time to look at these numbers. It isn’t clear yet what — if any — impact President-elect Donald Trump’s nativist emphasis will have on future enrollment of any international college student. Of course, it will take a few years before the numbers reveal the extent of the impact that the election has had on the number of foreign students who choose to study in the United States.

The Wall Street Journal points out another interesting global trend: while the number of international college students studying in the US is increasing steadily, international attendance in other countries is keeping up. As mentioned before, the international attendance at US schools rose by 7.1 percent from 2015 to 2016. According to the same article, the international attendance at Chinese colleges and universities rose by 36% between 2011 and 2016 — an average of 7.2% per year.

What does this mean for American students?

From that information, we can infer that perhaps it isn’t so much that the US’s international attendance is growing as that the US is keeping up with a broader trend toward studying internationally. Either way, the numbers suggest that you’re more likely to study abroad now than you ever have been before — and even if you don’t, you’re more and more likely to have the opportunity to interact and engage with foreign exchange students. In an increasingly global marketplace, that can’t hurt!

Questions? Let us know!