New data recently released by the Institute of International Education has shown that while the number of international students within the US totaled more than 1 million for the fourth consecutive year, a downward trend in new enrollments has persisted for the past three years.
According to the annual “Open Doors” report, the 2018-19 school year saw a 1% decline in new international student enrollment from the previous year, dropping from 271,738 to 269,383.
While this alone is not cause for concern, the new data aligns with an ongoing decline in new international enrollments that began with a 3% drop between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years. The following year’s results revealed about a 7% decline in enrollments.
Totals from the data include foreign students enrolled in US colleges and universities belonging to “non-degree,” “undergraduate” and “graduate” levels of academia.
The timing of the decline aligning with the 2016 presidential election and the spread of Trump’s nationalist language - including his alleged “s**thole countries” remark and consistent anti-Latinx rhetoric - has caused some to blame his leadership for the recent drop in international enrollment.
“While other countries work hard to attract international students, we are managing to send a message that talented foreigners are not welcome here, just when we most need them,” Ángel Cabrera, president of George Mason University, said in a 2018 statement following last year’s enrollment report, according to the Washington Post.
However, Caroline Casagrande, deputy assistant secretary for academic programs in the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, argued that tuition and other associated costs of attending US colleges and universities are actually to blame.
“What we’ve seen today is a dramatically better picture compared to last year’s declines,” she said during an interview with reporters, according to the Associated Press. “The Trump administration has dedicated more resources than ever to international student mobility.”
Though US schools have seen an uptick in students from countries such as Brazil, Bangladesh and Nigeria, some argue that colleges and universities may be seeing low numbers due to a reduction in US student visa opportunities.
Nobel Prize winner and former US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu spoke on a panel at a US-China relations forum at Stanford University back in March and was critical of the administration, which severely limited the length of student visas for Chinese graduate students in 2018.
"The concern is that it's harder and harder to get visas, even for those very brilliant postdoctorate students who are applying to the best universities in the US,” Chu said, as reported by China Daily.
According to Casagrande, however, targeting Chinese students is not the intent of the administration.
“The State Department has been working hard to make sure Chinese students know they’re welcome in the United States,” she told the AP. “We want these Chinese students here.”