As college students head back to school, campus administrators are anxiously making their final count of international students enrolled for the fall semester.
Visa numbers and college officials suggest that fewer international students have enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities over the past few years.
And with the pool of college-age students shrinking due to demographic trends and state support for higher education sputtering, public colleges and universities that lose overseas students can find themselves in financial trouble.
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Changes in the international higher education market and President Donald Trump’s nativist policies could be leading students from China, India and other countries to enrol elsewhere, say college administrators and experts who track student data.
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Not every college has seen a decrease in enrollments recently, and some have seen bigger swings than others. At the University of Central Missouri, for instance, an enrollment boom driven mostly by graduate students from India peaked at over 2,700 international students in 2015, then dropped to just 900 students last year.
Colleges have been cutting professors, programs, even athletic teams in response to falling international enrollments, The New York Times reported in January.
There’s not a single explanation for the rapid rise and fall of international enrollment at the university. The rise seemed propelled by low prices and social media — just people talking about the university online.
Since then, other universities have adopted the same pricing structure, and the Indian economy has slowed down, he said. Then there’s the visa situation and general worry among students that they’re not welcome in the United States.
The Institute of International Education’s Bhandari said changing the rules governing visas and work permits is what’s most likely to hurt international enrollment over the long haul.
Whether students feel welcome changes over time — for instance, the United States saw a temporary decline in international enrollments after the 9/11 attacks.