Press Release

New Survey Suggests Turnaround in International Student Enrollments at U.S. Colleges and Universities

Fall 2006: Joint Survey on International Student Enrollments in the US


Judith Irwin, American Association of Community Colleges
202-728-0200 x 233

Susan Chilcott, American Association of State Colleges and Universities

Tim McDonough, American Council on Education
(202) 939-9365

Barry Toiv, Association of American Universities
(202) 408-7500

Stuart Heiser, Council of Graduate Schools
(202) 223-3791

Ursula Oaks, NAFSA: Association of International Educators
(202) 737 3699x253

Rebecca Sullivan, National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges


New Survey Suggests Turnaround in
International Student Enrollments at U.S. Colleges and Universities

Some Institutions Continue to Report Declines, With Recovery Varying By Institutional Type

WASHINGTON D.C., November 13, 2006 -- According to nearly 1,000 U.S. campuses responding to a joint survey conducted by eight leading higher education associations, new enrollments of international students increased this fall at more than half (52% or 475) of responding member campuses. Only 20% (180) of the responding institutions experienced declines in newly enrolled international students, and 28% (250) report that new enrollments stayed about the same as last year. Regarding overall international student enrollments, the survey indicates that 45% of responding institutions reported that they experienced an increase in overall international student enrollments for Fall 2006, while 26% reported a decline, and 29% reported level enrollments.

These online survey findings, while not comprehensive, suggest that the declines from previous years may have worked their way through the system and that overall enrollments are likely to rebound. The new enrollments are faster to rebound than the overall enrollment figures since total enrollments include the smaller incoming cohorts from prior years. But flows from certain world regions still appear to lag behind, and not all institutions have seen strong increases in new enrollments experienced by others.

Among responding institutions with the largest foreign enrollments - over 100 U.S. campuses that host more than 1,000 international students - nearly three-quarters (73%) of the respondents reported increases, while only 8% reported declines, according to the survey. This is a significant improvement from last year's survey findings, where 51% of the top host campuses reported increases and 26% reported declines. The reported increases by these institutions point to a strong overall increase in the numbers of newly enrolled international students nationally.

Responses varied depending on institutional type. Among responding two-year colleges, 45% reported increases in total international student enrollments, while 26% reported declines. Thirty-six percent of Baccalaureate institutions reported increases, and 32% reported declines. Among Doctoral/Research institutions, many more (54%) reported increases than reported declines (21%) in their total number of international students for Fall 2006. Increases and declines include "slight", "some" and "substantial". Responding campuses were not asked to provide actual numbers of students, therefore it is not possible to determine the degree of the overall declines or increases.

The survey - which was conducted online in October 2006 to provide a timely "snapshot" of international students at U.S. colleges and universities for the current semester - was carried out by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in cooperation with American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), American Council on Education (ACE), Association of American Universities (AAU), Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), NAFSA: Association of International Educators, and National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC).

A total of 921 institutions responded to the survey, including 219 Doctoral/Research institutions, 221 Master's institutions, 161 Baccalaureate colleges, 251 two-year colleges, 29 Professional/Specialized institutions, and 29 other institutions. Included among these respondents were 102 institutions that enroll more than 1,000 international students. Their responses are also reported out in a separate analysis to compare the trends nationally with the trends at the leading host institutions.

The Fall 2006 survey asked educators to indicate whether they had seen a change in new enrollments from selected major sending countries. The results indicate that new enrollments from most of these countries seem to be increasing, with respondents reporting more increases than declines. More institutions reported increases than declines in the number of students from China (42% reporting increases vs. 14% reporting declines, and the rest reporting level enrollments), Korea (39% reporting increases vs. 14% reporting declines), and India (36% reporting increases vs. 17% reporting declines). Also, more institutions are reporting increases for the Middle East as a region (24% reporting increases vs. 17% reporting declines). Survey respondents were asked to separately comment on enrollments from Saudi Arabia and 27% reported increases vs. 9% reporting declines. This is consistent with a new Saudi government program that began to make scholarship awards for their students to study abroad beginning in Fall 2005. However, more institutions reported declines than increases in the number of students from Japan (28% reporting a decline vs. 24% reporting an increase).

Of the institutions that reported a decline in their international student enrollments, those that enroll both graduate and undergraduate students indicated that the declines were more evident at the undergraduate level. Fifty-three percent of the institutions that responded to that question said that declines were more evident at the undergraduate level, while 30% reported more graduate level declines, and 17% reported that graduate and undergraduate levels declines were about the same.

Twenty percent of the responding institutions experiencing declines in international student enrollments cited visa application processes and concerns over delays/denials as the major reason for the decline (down from last year's 35%), followed by cost of tuition/fees at U.S. institutions (16%) and decisions to enroll in another country's institutions (7%). Several educators believe the declines reflect a combination of several factors, including competition from other host countries, increased capacity in students' home countries, and increased competition for international students among U.S. institutions.

Fifty-eight percent (525) of all responding institutions have taken special steps to ensure that the number of international students on their campuses does not decline. These steps included new international programs or collaborations (cited by 30%), followed by new staff or additional staff time devoted to international recruitment (28%), new funding for international recruitment trips (24%), and new funding for marketing and promotion of programs (12%). Institutions that have devoted more resources for international student recruitment trips seem to have concentrated mainly on Asia, with China, Korea, Japan and India as most popular recruitment destinations.

The full survey results are available for download at:

Leaders of the associations expressed relief that international student numbers appear to be rebounding, at least among the majority of responding institutions, while also urging campuses and the U.S government to continue working hard to sustain these renewed flows of international students.

"US campuses are now seeing the results of their hard work over the past few years reaching out proactively to international students. IIE's offices around the world report this same broad interest in U.S. higher education by students seeking study opportunities outside their home country. Our advising offices abroad and higher education fairs are crowded with students and parents seeking information," said Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO of the Institute of International Education. "These students know the quality of our educational system and the value of a U.S. degree. And we know how vital their participation in the classroom is to the education of American students as well."

"This survey supports both the 12% increase in first-time international graduate enrollment and 1% increase in total international enrollment that a recent Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) report found," said CGS President Debra W. Stewart. "These findings are additional indications of a turnaround in international student trends, but we must continue our efforts to attract the best and brightest students from around the globe to our graduate schools."

"It is gratifying to see evidence that international students are returning to U.S. colleges and universities in larger numbers than in previous years," said American Council on Education President David Ward. "This comes in no small measure because of outreach efforts undertaken by our institutions and has been enhanced by cooperation on the part of the Departments of State and Homeland Security in working with our campuses. It is vitally important that we continue to foster programs of international exchange. I can think of no better investment in the excellence of U.S. higher education, public diplomacy and national security."

"We are moving in the right direction with these figures. More needs to be done however. For their own education U.S. students need to study with international students. Moreover, the U.S. benefits from future foreign leaders better understanding America. We live in a globally competitive environment where cross-education benefits all. I applaud the Institute of International Education for once again spear-heading this important survey," said Peter McPherson, President, NASULGC, A State University Association.

"As they are for millions of students in this country, community colleges are a dynamic and affordable entry into higher education in the U.S," said George R. Boggs, President and CEO, American Association of Community Colleges. "The benefits are mutual, as international students learn about American culture firsthand and their presence on campus provides American students the opportunity to learn about other countries and cultures. Helping international students understand the advantages of community colleges has been a priority for the American Association of Community Colleges, and we are pleased to those efforts paying off."

However, the associations also said that more steps need to be taken in order to continue to attract the best and brightest international students in the future.

"While the latest numbers are cause for optimism that the troubling declines of the last several years may be headed toward a recovery, the United States has a lot of work to do to restore its competitiveness for international students and scholars," said Marlene M. Johnson, CEO and Executive Director of NAFSA: Association of International Educators. "That competition has substantial implications for its future economic vitality, security, and global leadership."

"We are encouraged by this year's increase in first-time international student enrollments and in graduate and doctoral program enrollments," said Robert Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities. "However, we are still below pre-2001 enrollment levels due to delays in visa processing, fierce competition from other host countries for the most talented students, and increased educational opportunities for students in their home countries. To overcome these challenges, the federal government must continue to work to improve the visa process and reduce other barriers encountered by international students, and U.S. universities must continue to recruit the best and brightest students from around the world."

"We are gratified to learn that new enrollments of international students on U.S. campuses have grown for a second consecutive year," said Constantine W. Curris, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. "We are especially pleased to see the enrollment growth at public colleges and universities. AASCU and its members are committed to providing a welcoming environment and many of our campuses have strong recruitment programs designed to attract international students. However more must be done to insure that international students know they are welcome in our country and on our campuses. We should continue our collaborations with Homeland Security and the Department of State to address visa processing issues and other procedures that hamper access. Concomitantly we need to continue to increase dramatically the number of U.S. students studying abroad. Our students can derive significant educational and personal benefits from immersion in other cultures. America's ability to compete and lead on a global scale in the years ahead depends on our commitment to international education."

# # # # #

See 2006 Open Doors Data for detailed information on international student enrollments for 2005/06.


Media Contact

Sharon Witherell
Director, Public Affairs
Tel: +1 212.984.5380

Shana Childs
Public Affairs
Tel: +1 212.984.5360

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