Policy Analysis

U.S. Colleges Face Potential Loss of $250 Million from Drop in International Enrollments

The "Trump effect" could smack American colleges and universities to the tune of a quarter of a billion dollars in tuition and fees if international student enrollment drops by only 5 percent. That's the conclusion of researcher Rahul Choudaha, who leads DrEducation, a U.S.-based firm that monitors international student trends. Choudaha said the president's "anti-immigrant rhetoric" is "colliding with the economic challenges in the 'source' countries to create a perfect storm for international student enrollment."

Of course, the travel ban imposed by Trump affects six Muslim-majority countries, which in the near past have sent about 20,000 students, "highly skewed to Iran and most at the doctoral level," said Choudaha.

But the "trickle-down effect on other Muslim-majority countries" is still an unknown, he added, as is the impact on travel from other countries. "The decline for the 2017-2018 academic year will hit the institutions hardest that have benefited from the rising tide of enrollments particularly from China, India and Saudi Arabia," he said.

China leads by count, he said; a third of the entire number of international students consists of Chinese students. For example, as of March 2017, 133,616 people from China were pursuing bachelor's degrees; 110,070 sought master's degrees; and 49,060 were working on doctorates at U.S. institutions in 2017. The number of students from India who sought bachelor's degrees at that time was 19,484, and those going after master's degrees totaled 164,727. Saudi Arabia had a total of 57,498 people studying in the United States, most at the bachelor's level.

The researcher calculated that if student enrollment dropped by a "conservative" 5 percent, schools were in line to lose an estimated $250 million. That's based on new enrollment at the bachelor and master's level of 200,000 students paying an average of $24,930 for tuition and fees. Even a 2 percent drop would equate to a loss of $100 million.

Choudaha warned that over the next couple of years, institutions would be wise to "prepare for an environment of hyper-competition and turbulence for recruiting international students." Some, he added, would "hurt more than the others." The first in line to see declining enrollments are those schools "not perceived to be high-ranked or ... in unpopular destinations."

"Given the immigration barriers, they may also have to find new ways of reaching international students through technology and cross-border modes of delivering education," he recommended. In addition, he advised institutions "to find more effective ways of meeting career and employability expectations of international students in either host or home countries."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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