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New Survey Shows Foreign Student Numbers Mostly Flat


The results of a snapshot survey by several higher education and international education organizations released last week suggest a leveling off of overall international student enrollments at U.S. colleges and universities this fall.

Thirty-four percent of respondents reported an increase in overall international student enrollments compared with last year, while 33% reported a decline. At institutions with more than 1,000 international students, 43% of respondents reported a decline in overall numbers, while 33% reported an increase. Among those institutions that enroll both undergraduate and graduate students, those that reported a decline indicated that it was more evident at the undergraduate level.

At the same time, the survey suggested some growth in the number of new international students. Forty percent of survey respondents reported that their numbers of new international students rose this year when compared to last year, while 34% reported that new international enrollments had stayed about the same and 26% reported a decline. Among the respondents that enroll more than 1,000 international students, about half (51%) reported an increase in new international students over last year.

“While this latest survey suggests some positive signs, the fact remains we have not yet been able to return to a situation of growth in the overall numbers,” said NAFSA Executive Director and CEO Marlene M. Johnson. “For the sake of our ability to promote fundamental national interests, this must change. In order to lead in today’s world, to compete successfully in the sciences and technology and to engage the global community, we urgently need a national policy on international education.”

The survey indicates that new international student enrollments from selected major sending countries appear mostly unchanged over last year, with some notable exceptions: More institutions reported increases than declines in the number of new students from China (29% reported increases, while 20% reported declines) and Korea (36% reported increase, while 17% reported declines). The survey also indicates declines in enrollments of new international students from countries including Indonesia (20% reported a decline and 13% reported an increase) and Pakistan (20% reported a decline and 14% reported an increase).

The online survey of nearly 1,000 U.S. colleges and universities was conducted in October by: American Association of Community Colleges; American Council on Education; Association of American Universities; Council of Graduate Schools (CGS); Institute of International Education; NAFSA: Association of International Educators; and National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

A report recently released by CGS indicates that international student admissions to U.S. graduate schools increased by 3% between 2004 and 2005, despite a 5% decline in applications by prospective international graduate students this spring. CGS further reports that while total international graduate enrollments are still down this year, by 3%, first-time international graduate student enrollment has increased 1% over last year. These findings are consistent with the apparent growth in the numbers of new international students indicated in the 2005 joint enrollment survey. Overall, the latest statistics suggest a flattening of international student enrollments, after years of steady increases during the period before 2003. 

The full results of the 2005 snapshot enrollment survey are available at

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