Although the number of international students in the United States remains high, the new student enrollment has witnessed a constant decline throughout the past several years, according to the 2018 Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange.
The report—released by the Institute of International Education and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs—showed that the number of international students in the United States reached a new high of 1.09 million, a 1.5 percent increase from the previous year, but the new undergraduate student enrollment fell by 6.3 percent compared to 2017, continuing the 2015-2016 trend of a slow decline.
The fall in new international student enrollment was more pronounced at the graduate and non-degree levels. However, between 2017 and 2018, Optional Practical Training participation grew by 15.8 percent.
This national trend seems to be a result of the U.S. visa process becoming more burdensome, said Christopher Simmons, associate vice president in the office of government relations.
“Some of the rhetoric coming out of the United States that is geared towards international students and scholars isn’t the most welcoming," Simmons said. "I also think there are more opportunities in other countries than there have been in the past so students are not only looking at the U.S. but also at Canada, Australia and China to continue their education.”
Simmons added that enrolling more international students will benefit U.S. colleges in terms of finances and diversity.
“Based on my observations at Duke, I think that the more diverse, the more international and global the student body is, the better it is for everyone here," he said. "For us to continue to put up any barriers, whether regulatory or otherwise through the visa system is unlikely to beneficial."
According to NAFSA International Student Economic Value Tool, international students at Duke University alone add $190 million to the U.S. economy and support 2,969 jobs. A total of 21,092 international students in North Carolina contribute $670.6 million and support 8,600 jobs.
Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions, noted that he didn't notice any decrease in international student applications over the last three years.
"Applications continue to increase among international students, as they have among U.S. students,” he said.
Although the admissions process has become more selective at Duke in recent years for both nationals and international students, the variability in enrollment for any group has been normal compared to historical records, Guttentag added.
“We did see a decrease in the Class of 2022 compared to 2021, from [international students forming] 10 percent of the class to 8 percent, but both of those are within the range of enrollment that we’ve seen among international students over the last decade,” he said.
Guttentag said that it was not clear for him why the decrease in international student enrollment might be more pronounced across graduate programs.
“With respect to the difference in international enrollment between undergraduate and graduate programs, I’m afraid I don’t know the dynamics of graduate school enrollment well enough to have a useful opinion," he said. "I don’t know whether it’s related to funding, visas, the quality or cost of graduate programs outside the US, or other factors.”
Anneli Richter, associate dean for graduate admissions, said she is aware of the national trend of declining international enrollment, but that there is no such a decline at the Duke Graduate School. In fact, the international application and enrollment numbers at Duke's graduate programs have continued to increase.
It is undetermined whether Duke is experiencing or will experience the trend described in the IIE report. Although international students might comprise a smaller percentage of the Class of 2022 compared to domestic students, new international student enrollment at Duke continues to climb—at least at the graduate level.
Simmons thinks the increasing enrollment results from Duke's outstanding international reputation and welcoming environment.
"Students that come here have a great experience and an excellent education and go to their home countries and tell other students," he noted. "I think it’s both the reputation and quality of our programs and I am sure word of mouth doesn’t hurt.”
Editor's note: This article's headline was updated Tuesday morning to more accurately reflect its contents.
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