Foreign student enrollment in U.S. colleges drops 15% to under 1M

College students wearing masks to protect against COVID-19 walk on the Saint Louis University campus in St. Louis on August 19, 2020. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

Dec. 7 (UPI) — Enrollment of foreign students in U.S. colleges and universities plunged 15% in the 2020-21 school year even though American institutions remain in high esteem, research showed Monday.

Fewer than 1 million foreign students enrolled for either online or in-person classes at U.S. universities in the 2020-21 school year, marking a 15% year-over-year decrease from the previous school year, according to data from the Institute of International Education analyzed by the Pew Charitable Trust.

It also marked the first time since 2014-15 that fewer than 1 million international students have enrolled at U.S. institutions, historical IIE data showed.

Despite the slowdown, a median of 59% of adults across 16 advanced economies still describe American universities as either the best in the world or above average relative to those in other developed nations, according to a Pew survey.

The declining foreign enrollment was driven by sharp drop-offs in first-time students coming from South Korea (down 21% year-over-year), China (down 15%) and India (down 13%), according to the IIE’s latest Open Doors survey, which included 3,000 U.S. colleges and universities.

China remained the leading place of origin for international students with 35% of all international students in the 2020-21 school year.

U.S. officials have said the 2020-21 drop-off is attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated border closings, flight cancellations and other challenges to global mobility.


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