Statistics for International Students in the U.S. Show a Decline of 3.3%, Trump’s Policies to Blame

U.S. International Students Enrollment Decline

A U.S. international students enrollment decline has been occurring since 2016, in part because of President Donald Trump. In a recent survey, 45% of universities reported a drop in new international students. “Open Doors,” an annual survey of over 2,000 colleges and universities and their international enrollment numbers, announced a 3.3% decline in new international students for the academic year 2016-17. Further, its secondary, more current survey reported a decline of seven percent in new international students in the current academic year. There are many factors responsible for the drop in the university enrollments, including Trump’s immigration policy discouraging many international students in the U.S. Other factors include the higher cost of U.S. education, visa-related discrepancies and delays, increasing competition from other countries, and change in governments’ scholarship programs.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) released a report last week, titled “Science and Engineering Indicators.” According to the report, for 2016-17, the enrollments for international undergraduate students declined by 2.2%, and international graduate students declined by 5.5%.

Below are a few additional highlights about the international enrollment from the NSF report:

  • The number of international undergraduate students enrolled in computer sciences and mathematics increased. Meanwhile, the number of students taking engineering, social sciences, non-science, and engineering fields went down.
  • The number of undergraduate science and engineering students from China, India, and Kuwait rose. Saudi Arabia and South Korea observed a drop.
  • The number of international graduate students taking mathematics increased, while the number enrolled in computer science and engineering declined. For other science and engineering fields, the number remained relatively stable.
  • The number of graduate science and engineering students from China and Taiwan increased. India, Saudi Arabia, Iran and South Korea observed declines.

Decline in International Students Number Can Hurt the U.S. Economy

According to a National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA) report, international students contributed $36.9 billion to the U.S. economy. This total supported over 450,000 jobs during the 2016 -2017 academic year. This indicates a 12.4% rise in job support and creation.


Also, for the first time, international students in more than 10 U.S. states contributed more than $1.0 billion. California had the most significant contribution at $6.0 billion, followed by New York State ($4.6 billion) and Massachusetts ($2.7 billion).

“Once again, the data show international students are an asset not only to their respective universities but also to communities and regions across the nation,” said NAFSA executive director and CEO Esther D. Brimmer.

The number of international enrollments at U.S. institutions has doubled over the past 15 years. However, that number declined for the first time in autumn 2016. Moreover, the number is continuously lowering, which may hurt the U.S. economy.

“Given all the benefits that international students bring, we now face increasing global competition for this talent,” Brimmer said. “It is in our best interest to strengthen policies that reflect our nation’s founding ideals of inclusivity and opportunity. We must continue to build bridges – not walls – and instill in every potential international student that all are welcome and valued here.”

Trump’s Travel Ban and Immigration Policy: Blamed for the Decline in Foreign students

Many people believe the so-called “Trump effect” is responsible for the drop in the enrollments of international students in the U.S., specifically his travel ban and immigration policies. As a result of these, universities’ revenue is declining.

The University of Central Missouri observed the decline of nearly 40% in international student enrollment. It had a loss of about $14.0 million. “As you lose those students, then the tuition revenue is negatively impacted as well,” said Michael Godard, the school’s interim provost.

At state-funded schools, international students pay more, as they don’t qualify for in-state tuition. They even pay full tuition fees at private universities because they don’t qualify for financial aid. And now, immigrants from Muslim countries like Syria, Iran, Libya, and Yemen are also facing being banned (again). Residents of some countries are facing visa rejections for traveling to the United States. Moreover, legal restrictions and the harsh rhetoric from U.S. officials are contributing towards the decline in international student enrollments.

The decline in the number of international students in the U.S. is hampering its economy. The “Trump effect” may force international students to turn to other countries for their educations. Certain policies must be implemented to support inclusivity, which will help to strengthen the U.S. economy.



International Student Numbers Decline,” Inside Higher Ed, January 22, 2018.

New International Enrollments Decline,” Inside Higher Ed , November 13, 2017.

International students contribute $37bn to US – NAFSA,” The PIE News, November 14, 2017.

International students contribute US$37bn to US economy,” StudyTravel Magazine, November 20, 2017.

Fewer Foreign Students Means a Smaller Contribution to U.S. Economy,” Bloomberg, November 17, 2017.

Donald Trump May Be Scaring International Students Away From Colleges In The U.S. ,” Newsweek, January 23, 2018.

Amid ‘Trump Effect’ Fear, 40% of Colleges See Dip in Foreign Applicants,” The New York Times, March 16, 2017.

Trump’s Immigration Policies Are Making Universities Lose Money,” Newsweek, January 3, 2018.


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