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International Student Enrollments Decline

International Student Enrollments Decline
By 2.4 Percent in 2003/2004WASHINGTON
The number of international students enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions decreased by 2.4 percent in 2003/2004 to a total of 572,509, according to “Open Doors 2004,” the annual report on international academic mobility published by the Institute of International Education (IIE) with support from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The overall decline in international students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities has been attributed to a variety of reasons, including real and perceived difficulties in obtaining student visas (especially in scientific and technical fields), rising U.S. tuition costs, vigorous recruitment activities by other English-speaking nations, and perceptions abroad that international students may no longer be welcome in the United States.

The decline follows minimal increase the prior year (0.6 percent in 2002/2003), preceded by five years of steady growth. The drop in enrollments in 2003/2004 is the first absolute decline in foreign enrollments since 1971/1972 (when enrollments dropped 3 percent to 140,126), although several years of minimal (less than 1 percent) growth were reported in the mid-1980s and mid-1990s. An increase of 2.5 percent in the total number of international students enrolled at the graduate level partially offset a 5 percent decline in the number of international undergraduate students in 2003/2004. These international student enrollment changes were experienced differently by different types of institutions and in different levels and fields of study. 

University of Southern California, with 6,647 international students in 2003/2004, was the U.S. university with the largest number of international students for the third year in a row, enrolling 6 percent more international students than the previous year (with increases at both the undergraduate and graduate level).

The undergraduate declines were partially offset by an increase in the total number of graduate enrollments, which increased by 2.5 percent in 2003/2004, with wide diversity among graduate fields and institutions. The national average for graduate enrollments at larger research/doctoral institutions (which host almost 70 percent of all foreign graduate students in the United States) showed minimal change over the prior year, with an average decrease of only 0.4 percent.

However, the 25 universities hosting the largest number of international students did not fare as well as the national average. Among the top 25 hosts, there was an average decrease of 3 percent international graduate students, with 15 of the institutions reporting declines, and a few individual research universities reporting declines as steep as 23 percent. 

“The United States remains the best place in the world to seek the benefits of higher education, and we are working in a concerted way at the Department of State and in related agencies to convince international students that they are welcome here,” said Patricia S. Harrison, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, commenting on the Open Doors findings. “The temporary decline in student numbers relates to a number of factors, including the need to make sure our borders are secure, but I am confident that both the situation and the numbers will improve.” Student-visa issuances for January through June 2004 increased by 11 percent over the same six-month period in 2003, according to Harrison.

International students brought over $13 billion to the U.S. economy in money spent on tuition, living expenses and related costs, according to the Department of Commerce. Nearly 75 percent of all international students reported that their primary source of funding comes from personal and family sources or other sources outside of the United States. 

For additional highlights from the Open Doors report, visit <>. 

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