The number of international students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities fell last year for the first time in 32 years, according to a major academic report released this week.
But the University at Buffalo, 15th in the nation in international-student enrollment, bucked the national trend with a modest increase of 5.8 percent.
"We have had to work very hard to achieve the results we have, and we will need to work even harder as the competition for students grows," Stephen C. Dunnett, UB vice provost for international education, said in an e-mail sent this week while he traveled to Mexico.
Higher education officials had expected the decline of 2.4 percent among all colleges and universities in the 2003-04 academic year. They blamed it on stringent, visa requirements after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and perceptions that this country doesn't welcome foreign scholars.
Enrollment data for the current school year isn't yet available, but educators are predicting another decline -- particularly among graduate students.
UB already knows its international enrollment fell 3.4 percent this semester, or 119 students, driven by an 8.4 percent decline among graduate and professional students.
"During the past three years, it has become increasingly difficult for international students to access U.S. higher education and more challenging for U.S. institutions to recruit and enroll them," Dunnett wrote.
The Institute of International Education's "Open Doors" report shows that a decrease in international undergraduate enrollment of 5 percent in 2003-04 offset a 2.5 percent increase in graduate enrollment. The overall international population fell to 572,509.
The five countries that send the most students to U.S. institutions -- India, China, South Korea, Japan and Canada -- all sent fewer undergraduates.
"The decrease in number of international students this year is explained by a variety of factors . . . and includes a wider range of educational opportunities at home, stiff competition from other host countries, rising U.S. tuition costs and the complex process of adjustment to tighter screening of visa applicants," Allan Goodman, the institute's president, said in a statement.
Colleges and universities in New York State enroll more international students than those in any other state except California, and their numbers fell 0.7 percent, to 63,313.
For several years, educators have warned that well-intentioned efforts to improve security in this country after the 2001 terrorist attacks could drive away international students.
They argue that international students boost the economy, becoming tax-paying residents of this country or returning home with positive memories of their stay abroad.
UB has worked to counter a decline in applications from foreign scholars by trying to ensure that students accepted to the university enroll.
This fall, international graduate applications fell 30 percent, but the number of first-time grad students fell only 11 percent, according to UB's Office of International Education.
Total international enrollment at UB rose 5.8 percent, to 3,463 students ,in fall 2003, but this year fell 3.4 percent, to 3,344.
Some international educators fear this trend of declining enrollment will continue for the indefinite future, though the federal government has taken some corrective measures.
Dunnett noted students now get priority in scheduling visa interviews and background security checks are now faster.