Press Release

Foreign Student Enrollment Growth Slows in Fall 2003

US Campuses report Visa Application Process and Sluggish Global Economy Affecting Enrollments

Editor's Note: Press are invited to a briefing on the Open Doors data and to discuss the broader topic: "Understanding Student Mobility in a Global Context"

Monday, November 17, 2003
9:30 a.m. -- National Press Club -- Washington, D.C.

Washington D. C., November 3, 2003 - In an online survey conducted in October 2003 by the Institute of International Education, campus professionals reported that new security procedures and economic factors are having visible impact on foreign student enrollments. Forty-six percent of respondents reported some declines in their total international student enrollments, while 54% show no change or some increases. Most respondents (59%) attribute declines to new visa applications processes, while an additional 21% cite financial difficulties as the primary cause. In addition, 45% of respondents report a decline in the number of newly admitted international students for Fall 2003 compared to new students in Fall 2002. Despite these declines, however, a majority of respondents (54%) reported either an increase in foreign student enrollments (33%) or no change (21%), reinforcing the view that there is an uneven impact that is being felt strongly by some campuses and some fields and more modestly or not at all by others.

The online survey findings will be released today in conjunction with the release of Open Doors 2003, IIE's annual comprehensive report on international educational exchange, funded by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The new online survey supplements the release of the Open Doors data by providing a snapshot of what 276 educators have observed on their campuses at the start of the fall 2003 term. The full survey and results, along with substantive comments on the survey-related discussion board, are posted on IIE's Open Doors website (

The Institute's annual comprehensive report on international student mobility, Open Doors 2003, shows that a record total of 586,323 international students studied in the United States in academic year 2002/03, making higher education one of this country's leading exports and bringing nearly $12 billion to the U.S. economy. Although interest in international education remains strong, in 2002/03 international student enrollments increased only slightly, up by less than 1% over the previous year. Detailed breakdowns of the report's findings are available on the Open Doors website.

IIE's October 2003 online survey suggests that visa applications processes and economic factors are impacting enrollments (46% of respondents report a decline in international enrollments). Many educators believe declines reflect a combination of several factors, including competition from other host countries. Despite the large number of campuses reporting a decline, the majority of respondents (54%) reported either an increase in foreign student enrollments (33%) or no change (21%), demonstrating the tremendous disparity in enrollment impact among different institutions.

The October 2003 survey asked educators to indicate whether they had seen a change in enrollments from any of the following major sending countries and countries with large Islamic populations: India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kenya, Korea, Nigeria, Thailand, Turkey, and United Arab Emirates. The results suggest that there has been a decline in enrollments by students from many of these countries. However, a large number of respondents have seen increases in the number of new students coming from several major sending countries, including India (32% reporting an increase vs. 27% reporting declines), Korea (32% reporting increases vs. 19% reporting declines), and Kenya (19% reporting increases vs. 17 % reporting declines), leading some of the 276 educators who responded to this IIE online survey to assert that, in many cases, the perception of possible problems with new visa application procedures may have a stronger impact on some students than the actual visa process.

On the other hand, many respondents reported declines in new students from Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia (29% reporting a decrease), Pakistan (28%), and the United Arab Emirates (23%). (See for complete online survey and Open Doors 2003 data).

Additional follow-up with 16 of the institutions that host the highest numbers of international students echo the survey's overall findings. Eight of these institutions report a slight decline in enrollment (less than 10%), while five of these leading host institutions report slight increases in the number of international students on their campuses this year. Three institutions report no noticeable change. One area where the leading host institutions' experience seemed to deviate from the other survey respondents was in new enrollments Fall 2003 of Chinese students, compared to enrollments for Fall 2002. Eight of the leading host institutions report increases in new Chinese enrollments (with four reporting slight decreases and only one reporting declines of 11-30%). However, the overall survey responses indicated that more of the campuses had declines in new admissions of Chinese students this year, with 36% percent reporting declines, and only 21% reporting increases. This demonstrates the variability of circumstances experienced by different types of institutions; depending on institutional type, size, and degrees offered, institutions experienced very different levels of change in Fall 2003 enrollments.

Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO of the Institute of International Education, noted that the survey is a snapshot of foreign student enrollment on U.S. campuses this fall, and said, "We need to take concerted action at the national, state and campus level to insure that foreign students know that they are welcome and vital members of our campuses and communities. Despite declines from some countries and at some campuses, the United States remains the premier destination for foreign students."

According to Peggy Blumenthal, IIE's Vice President for Educational Services, "Some of the discrepancies from campus to campus can be attributed to the fact that international student programs vary widely, drawing students from different countries and for different academic programs. In some countries and for some fields, the visa application process can be a lengthy and challenging one, leading students to choose other hosts countries. Campuses may also experience an enrollment slump if the bulk of their students come from a region that is experiencing economic difficulties."

While the survey responses were anonymous, a total of 276 respondents identified themselves as representing institutions as follows: 153 (54%) from universities, 74 (27%) from four-year colleges, 34 (12%) from two-year colleges, and 15 (6%) from other types of institutions. # # #

Complete results of the poll and a press kit on major findings of the Open Doors 2003 report can be found at, IIE's online resource for the international education community. The Open Doors report is published by IIE with support from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State. The Institute of International Education, founded in 1919, is the leading not-for-profit educational and cultural exchange organization in the United States.


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IIE Experts

IIE experts on international education are available for interviews or speaking engagements.

Dr. Allan E. Goodman
President and CEO

Peggy Blumenthal 
Senior Counselor to the President