Press Releases

Press Release

International Student Enrollment Levels Vary for Fall 2009; Some Institutions Continue to See Growth, While Others See Some Declines

View current Open Doors data

Campuses note varied effects of current economic conditions

WASHINGTON, DC, November 16, 2009—According to about 700 U.S. campuses responding to a joint survey conducted by eight leading higher education associations, overall enrollments of international students increased this fall at half (50% or 348) of responding member campuses. Twenty-four percent (169) of the responding institutions experienced declines, and 26% (177) report that overall international student enrollments stayed about the same as last year. Regarding new international student enrollments, the survey indicates that 45% of responding institutions reported an increase for Fall 2009, while 29% reported a decline, and 26% reported level enrollments. The campuses seeing declines noted varied effects of the current economic conditions and students’ concerns about the H1N1 virus, while those reporting increases cited increased recruitment efforts and the growing reputation and visibility of U.S. campuses abroad.

The survey was conducted online in October 2009 to provide a timely “snapshot” of what U.S. colleges and universities are experiencing with regard to international student enrollment for the current semester. In addition to reporting increases or decreases, educators are also asked to provide comments as to their perception of the reasons for these changes and steps they are taking to attract and retain international students.

This collaborative initiative is separate from the annual Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange produced by the Institute of International Education with support from the U.S. Department of State. Open Doors provides comprehensive statistics and analysis based on detailed data collected throughout the previous year from more than 3,000 U.S. campuses, and the international student figures reported in Open Doors 2009 are for academic year 2008/09. The Fall snapshot survey is an effort by the U.S. higher education community to offer a complementary forward-looking, top-line view of international student enrollment trends contextualized by campus perspectives in the current year.

The Fall 2009 online survey findings, while not comprehensive, suggest that both new and overall international student enrollments are likely to continue to grow, albeit perhaps at a slower rate of increase. In last year’s survey, a larger percentage of institutions reported that they experienced an increase, and a smaller percentage reported declines.

The major reasons for the reported increases appear to be largely related to continued active recruitment efforts (cited by 28% of responding institutions), the growing reputation and visibility of U.S. campuses abroad (26%), and an increased number of linkages with institutions in other countries. The responding institutions that experienced declines in international student enrollments cited the world financial crisis (cited by 23%), the cost of tuition/fees at U.S. institutions (21%), and home country economic problems (19%) as major reasons for declines at their institutions. Many other respondents indicated students’ concerns about the H1N1 virus, lack of financial aid or scholarships, and a poor U.S. job market.

Fifty-seven percent (395) 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 staff or additional staff time devoted to international recruitment (cited by 29%), followed by new funding for international recruitment trips (20%), and new funding for marketing and promotion of programs (15%). Institutions that have devoted more resources for international student recruitment trips seem to have concentrated mainly on Asia, with China by far the most popular recruitment destination. The institutions that did not take special steps mainly cited a lack of funding or resources.

Campus responses varied depending on their institutional type. Among Doctoral/Research institutions responding, many more (66%) reported increases than reported declines (15%) in their total number of international students for Fall 2009. Forty-eight percent of Baccalaureate institutions responding reported increases, with 27% reporting declines; 44% of responding Master’s institutions reported increases, while 30% reported declines; and 42% of the responding two-year colleges reported increases in total international student enrollments, while 29% reported declines. 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 actual figures of the overall declines or increases.

A total of 701 institutions responded to the survey, including 195 Doctoral/Research institutions, 142 Master’s institutions, 145 Baccalaureate colleges, 186 two-year colleges, 20 Professional/Specialized institutions, and 13 other institutions. Included among these respondents were 121 institutions that enroll more than 1,000 international students, whose responses are also reported out in a separate analysis.

The Fall 2009 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 China seem to be increasing significantly, with 60% of institutions reporting increases and only 11% reporting declines (the rest reported level enrollments). Also, more institutions are reporting increases for the Middle East as a region (30% reporting increases vs. 11% reporting declines). Survey respondents were asked to separately comment on enrollments from Saudi Arabia and 30% reported increases vs. 10% 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.

For the fourth year in a row more institutions reported declines than increases in the number of students from Japan (30% reporting a decline vs. 19% reporting an increase). And for the first time, the number of institutions reporting increases in students from India do not outweigh those who are reporting declines (29% reporting increases and 29% reporting declines). When looking specifically at the largest host institutions (those 121 responding institutions enrolling more than 1,000 students), 50% of responding institutions are reporting a decline for students from India and only 31% are reporting an increase.

The survey 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), Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), and NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

Leaders of the associations commented on the survey findings, noting the continued growth in the number of international students enrolled at U.S. institutions, while also urging campuses and the U.S government to continue working hard to sustain the renewed flows of international students.

"Despite the economic downturn, many campuses are still seeing increases in international student enrollment for Fall 2009, while others are seeing declines or flattening of enrollments,” said Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO of the Institute of International Education (IIE). “The impact also varies by country, with reported declining enrollments from India and a few other countries offset on many campuses by surging numbers of students coming from China and strong increases from certain other major sending countries. The picture is clearly mixed, with half of the respondents reporting increases, almost a quarter reporting declines, and others reporting no change from last year. What remains clear is the continued strong presence of America's diverse range of higher education institutions in the international marketplace, and the need for campuses to do continued and vigorous outreach during tough economic times. EducationUSA centers around the world also play an important role, helping to promote American higher education and providing international students with information that is free and comprehensive, both online and on the ground, complementing the recruiting efforts of individual campuses."

“The role community colleges play in providing a better educated workforce that helps lead economic recovery has increased their visibility both in the U.S. and abroad,” said George R. Boggs, President and CEO, American Association of Community Colleges. “Domestic enrollments are at historic levels, and we expect the slight declines in international student enrollments to be temporary reflections of economic stress and concerns about the H1N1 flu.”

“It is gratifying to learn that despite the current economic hardships, international students continue to have opportunities to study and learn at our public colleges and universities,” says Muriel A. Howard, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). “AASCU and its members are committed to providing opportunities for international students. We know there is the capacity to increase international enrollments by being strategic in our internationalization efforts, strengthening infrastructure and campus support systems and by providing our students and faculty with international experiences. We must continue to support the enrollment of international students because they not only build good will for the United States and contribute to the diversity of our campuses, but they also challenge our students to be more global in their outlook and perspective. America’s ability to compete and lead on a global scale in the years ahead depends on our commitment to international education.”

“Attracting international students remains a very high priority for higher education and the nation,” said Molly Corbett Broad, American Council on Education president. “While some sectors of higher education witnessed gains in international student enrollment, these survey results indicate that we must intensify our recruitment efforts across all types of postsecondary education if we are to draw more students from abroad to our institutions. Their presence enriches the experience of everyone in the classroom and on campus.”

“We are pleased that for the third straight year, international student enrollments have increased at our nation’s doctoral-granting and research institutions,” said Robert M. Berdahl, President of the Association of American Universities. “The rise in both new and total enrollments demonstrates the continued interest of international students and scholars in the unparalleled education and training opportunities offered by U.S. research universities. The benefits of these international enrollments are not limited to these students; the education and research programs of their American host institutions are also enriched by the exceptional talents and diverse perspectives these students and scholars bring with them.”

“In light of the global financial crisis, these numbers are very encouraging,” said Peter McPherson, President of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). “The United States continues to be the destination of choice for large numbers of international students. Ensuring that the quality of higher education in the U.S. remains second to none and reforming the route to citizenship for graduates will be critical to future growth in the numbers of international students enrolled.”

“The mixed picture in international student enrollment trends is consistent with the results of a recent CGS report, which found international first-time graduate enrollment flat overall, with growth similarly concentrated at large and doctoral universities,” said CGS President Debra W. Stewart. “These trends, combined with our nation’s declining share of the global student market, are a concern for the graduate education community as we work to continue to attract the world's best and brightest students to our graduate schools.”

“This year’s snapshot survey reveals a mixed picture at U.S. colleges and universities,” said Marlene M. Johnson, Executive Director & CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators. “Some schools are continuing to see gradual growth in their numbers of international students, but in a number of categories, respondents report declines or level enrollments more often than increases. Incremental growth is likely to be the trend overall in more comprehensive surveys, but the reality is that the global competition for talent and the explosion of higher education centers in other countries, along with the economic downturn, make it imperative that the United States move toward a proactive, integrated visa and immigration policy that ensures our openness, accessibility, and attractiveness to the world’s best talent and future leaders.”


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

Media Contact

Sharon Witherell
Director, Public Affairs
Tel: +1 212.984.5380

Shana Childs
Public Affairs
Tel: +1 212.984.5360