University sees international student rates drop for first time since 2006

Recent data on international student enrollment shows a slight decline in students choosing to study in the U.S.

Lew Blank

Nationwide enrollment for international students at universities is dropping, and the University of Minnesota is no exception. 

Studies released last fall and this week show international student enrollment numbers dropped from 2016 to 2017.

A study from the National Science Foundation released this week shows that student enrollment dropped by 2.2 percent for undergraduate students and 5.5 percent for graduate students from 2016 to 2017.

During the same period, the University also experienced a decrease in international student enrollment, from 6,470 in 2016 to 6,363 in fall 2017, a drop of 1.7 percent. This is the first time international student enrollment has dropped since 2006.

Additionally, a study released last fall by the Institute of International Education looked at the student body makeup of 500 colleges across the U.S. IIE found that universities experienced “an average decrease of 7 percent in the number of new enrolled [international] students” between 2016 and 2017. 

An additional IIE study found this decline to be less intense, with a drop of about 3 percent.

“Right now, from students that we talked to who are outside of the United States, it’s not where in the United States should I go — it’s should I go to the United States at all?” said Aimee Thostenson, the director of international student recruitment for the University. “It’s not automatically assumed that if you want to study in an English language environment that you’ll come to the United States.”

Prospective international students coming to the U.S. may be influenced by affordability, economic conditions of their home countries, career prospects and perceptions of safety, Thostenson said.

She said President Donald Trump’s rhetoric regarding foreigners “certainly doesn’t help” declining international enrollment rates and might dissuade students from studying in the U.S.

“It’s an unusual time with so much rhetoric nationally,” added Barbara Kappler, assistant dean of International Student and Scholar Services.

The federal travel ban may also discourage international students from enrolling in U.S. colleges. 

“Where we saw the most fallout was definitely the Middle East,” Thostenson said.

The University is working on several projects to maintain high levels of enrollment among international students, including an International Student Ambassador program, which allows potential students to connect with international students already enrolled at the University, and have in-person conversations with prospective international students in their home countries.

“Our recruitment team has worked hard to have significant face-to-face time with families overseas,” Kappler said.

Regent Steve Sviggum said he is also optimistic about the future of international student enrollment on campus. 

“The hope that I have is that our product is of great value, and students around the world realize that,” Sviggum said.

He added that, while international students are an important part of the University, mandatory quotas for international students could come at the expense of prospective students from Minnesota. 

“Personally, I want to try to get as many students from Montevideo and Marshall and Alexandria and Mankato as possible, too,” Sviggum said.