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International Student Enrollment Declines at U.S. Colleges

Gwendolyn Glenn
UNC Charlotte officials say international student enrollment is up

According to data released by the Institute of International Education this week, enrollment of new international students at American colleges and universities fell for the second year in a row.

Enrollment at the undergraduate level fell by nearly 7 percent and by more than 5 percent at the graduate level.

The decrease can be attributed to fewer students coming from India, the second largest country of origin for international students, and Saudi Arabia, where that government scaled back its foreign student scholarships program. 

Enrollment rates remain strong for both undergraduate and graduate students from China, where most international students come from.

Numbers released by officials at UNC Charlotte do not follow the national trend. While enrollment did decrease by more than 100 students from 2015 to 2016, it rebounded last year and new international student enrollment is up slightly at both levels.

Total enrollment of new and continuing international students at UNC Charlotte has increased over the past five years, with just a slight drop in international graduate students.

Declines nationwide are also attributed to visa delays and denials. Since the Trump Administration issued a travel ban and tightened the visa process for some Muslim countries, this has become especially common for Iranian students.

Schools are responding by becoming more aggressive in their outreach and recruitment efforts.

Credit Gwendolyn Glenn
Officials with the UNC Charlotte International Student and Scholarship Office help foreign students navigate the application and enrollment process.

The data also points to a feeling of unwelcomeness among international students as a reason for the decline, stemming from immigration policies, concerns about gun safety and the increase in hate crimes.

More than one million international students are currently enrolled at U.S colleges, a 1.5 percent increase from last year, though that number may be deceptive.

The Optional Practical Training Program allows international students to stay in the U.S. under a student visa one year after they graduate while STEM graduates can extend their student visa stay by 36 months.

International students contribute more than $42 billion to the U.S. economy in tuition, room and board and other expenditures.