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United States Visa Concerns Expected to Stifle International Student Enrollment

American colleges and universities could face a much tougher environment in attracting international students for the fall 2017 semester. Two of the top four sources for those students –– South Korea and Saudi Arabia –– are in decline, and the other two sources –– India and China –– are seeing growth slow, according to DrEducation, which studies trends in international higher education.

Rahul Choudaha, CEO and principal researcher for the United States-based organization, reported that traditionally the U.S. vies with the United Kingdom for drawing students from other countries. But in both countries, uncertainty related to expected restrictions on student immigration as well as other factors may drive candidates elsewhere.

By studying data from the Institute of International Education (IIE), Choudaha has concluded that India is the "only market" right now among the leading four countries to witness a double-digit growth rate. IIE works with governments, foundations and other sponsors to create programs of study for students and educators, such as the well-known Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

In the cases of South Korea and Saudi Arabia, Choudaha explained, both countries are expected to experience a decline in the total number of students. "South Korea has been declining at a consistent pace for the last five years. This decline is driven by demographic shifts and also an improvement in the quality of options available within the country," he said in an email to Campus Technology. "Saudi decline is a direct function of the decline in the oil prices, which resulted in the drastic reduction in the funding and scholarship available for students to go abroad."

India and China are likely to continue growing, but at a slower rate, added Choudaha. "India was on a strong growth path. However, the changes in the Indian economy due to demonetization of the currency and fear of restrictive visa policies for employment has decelerated the momentum," he said. "For Chinese students, the slower rate of growth is likely to be a function of a large number of returnees who were unsuccessful in finding internship and job opportunities in the [United States]. At a time of economic slowdown in China, some families are questioning the value of investing in education abroad."

Choudaha suggested that institutions concerned about their future international attendance numbers become more aggressive in selling their programs. "While immigration policies and economic changes are out of institutional control, it is important to double-down engaging prospective students with the value of their experiences," he recommended. "Many institutions which benefited from the high preference of international students to study in the [United States] have to do more to sell the academic experience and the destination." His advice: Leverage alumni and current students "for delivering authentic and credible messages to prospective students."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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