The total number of international students at colleges and universities in the U.S. grew to a record 1.08 million in 2016-17, including 7,252 international students at the University at Buffalo. But data reported last week by the Institute of International Education also showed that the number of new international students – those enrolled at a U.S. institution for the first time in 2016 – declined by 10,000 from the previous year.
It was the first time in 12 years of collecting data on new enrollments that the number went down, and experts at IIE said the flattening of growth was driven by a mix of global and local economic conditions and expanded higher education opportunities in the home countries of students. The annual report is based on 2016 data from 2,105 U.S. institutions. It can be found at: https://www.iie.org/opendoors
The Open Doors report did not directly delve into the impact of Trump administration efforts in 2017 to curtail entry into the U.S. of international students from predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. However, it did include for the first time a separate online survey of nearly 500 colleges and universities for fall 2017 enrollment figures.
College and university officials across the country, including at UB, have expressed concern that the president's attempts to limit immigration would severely dampen their international student recruitment plans for 2017 and beyond.
The nearly 500 schools surveyed in September and October reported an average decrease of 7 percent in the number of new enrolled international students, with 45 percent of campuses reporting declines. Thirty-one percent of colleges said they had increases, and 24 percent reported no change from fall 2016.
"We were down across the board, but not by a lot," said Stephen C. Dunnett, UB vice provost for international education. The university enrolled about 60 fewer international freshmen in 2017, as compared with 2016 and about 100 fewer new graduate students. The number of continuing students from outside the U.S. remained steady, said Dunnett.
"It's pretty much the Trump factor and the travel bans, but it's also uncertainty about the H1B visas and the Optional Practical Training," said Dunnett, referring to a program that allows up to 12 months of employment in a student's field of study.
Trump and other political leaders were weighing whether to put stricter limits on work visas.
Other factors also were at play.
The value of the U.S. dollar is extremely strong, thanks to a robust stock market, making exchange rates not favorable for students from other countries paying U.S. tuition rates, said Dunnett.
Dunnett was in India earlier this month and also heard many concerns from families there about gun violence in the U.S., following recent mass shootings in Las Vegas and in Texas, he said.
UB was No. 21 on a list of U.S. colleges and universities with the most international students for 2016-17. New York University had the most international students, with 17,326, followed by the University of Southern California and Columbia University.
UB's 2016-17 international enrollment was up 3.2 percent from 2015-16, according to the Open Doors data. The figure included 2,188 students who graduated and went on to post-graduate Optional Practical Training using their UB student visas.
China produced nearly a third of the students attending U.S. colleges and universities, with 350,755 students in 2016-17. India was second with 186,267 students, and South Korea was third with 58,663 students. Those three countries also sent the most students to UB, in that order. Students from 112 countries attend UB.
University officials have maintained that domestic students benefit from the diversity that students from other parts of the world bring to campus. International students also pay tuition at higher rates than state residents, helping the university's bottom line.