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Report: International students at U.S. colleges rose 3.4% in 2016-17

High school students enter Frank Melville Jr. Memorial

High school students enter Frank Melville Jr. Memorial Library at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The number of international students studying at U.S. colleges grew 3.4 percent in the 2016-17 academic year from the previous year to 1.08 million, but the trend is threatened by a drop in new student enrollments, according to reports released Monday by the Institute of International Education.

About 10,000 fewer new students from other countries came into the U.S. higher education system in fall 2016 — the first decline in the 12 years the report has counted new international students. In addition, a separate updated snapshot taken in September and October showed a 7 percent drop in international student enrollment from the previous year.

“That’s really a wake-up call,” said Peggy Blumenthal, senior counselor to the president of IIE. “Schools can’t assume that the numbers are going to continue to go up, up, up.”

A lot of the decline, Blumenthal said, resulted from Brazil ending a scholarship program that paid for students to study abroad and another program in Saudi Arabia winding down.

IIE’s annual Open Doors report surveys nearly 3,000 U.S. public and private colleges and universities. The nonprofit group, based in Manhattan, was established in 1919 and partners with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to provide information on international student mobility.

The study counts those on nonimmigrant visas such as the F-1 and J-1 programs, designed for foreign students. The data for the 2016-17 report uses enrollment data from fall 2016. The separate fall 2017 snapshot was a smaller sample size with reports from 500 colleges.

Students from China and India make up about 50 percent of the international student body in the United States. South Korea and Canada also are among the top sending countries. International students represent more than 5 percent of about 20 million students enrolled in U.S. higher education.

The report is an important gauge for university administrators who actively recruit students from other countries to study in the United States. Those students are ineligible for federal student financial aid, though some are on scholarships provided by the governments in their native countries and/or could be receiving assistance from the host colleges to attend school. The majority, however, pay their own educational expenses, often with the help of their families.

“We are a significant enroller of international students,” said Mark Hampton, vice president responsible for recruitment and enrollment at New York Institute of Technology, which has main campuses in Old Westbury and Manhattan as well as satellite sites in China, Vancouver and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. “This is a big part of our business. It’s something we have embraced but are managing very cautiously.”

International students are about 24 percent of NYIT’s total enrollment of 7,400. With declines in Saudi Arabian students, the school is focusing more attention on Latin America. Additionally, its campus in Vancouver, where Hampton said “policies toward international students are much friendlier,” is seeing an uptick, Hampton said.

Since the 2016 presidential election, American college presidents, including Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., and organizations that assist in bringing international students to the United States have voiced concern over rhetoric and policy proposals that could be perceived as unwelcoming to foreigners.

A Trump administration ban on travel from six countries with large Muslim populations, which remains under legal challenge, has an exception for international students.

“Stony Brook University saw international enrollments climb in 2016 and 2017, but the number of international students in the freshman class dipped this year. We expect headwinds in recruiting international students for the upcoming admissions cycle,” Braden J. Hosch, assistant vice president for institutional research, planning and effectiveness at Stony Brook University, said in a statement Monday.

International students at SBU are about 14 percent. There are about 2,500 international undergraduates, according to the university’s website.

In this 2016-17 report, New York saw slightly more growth — 3.6 percent — than the national average. Stony Brook University was No. 5 on a list of institutions in the state, enrolling 5,739 international students. New York University, Columbia University, SUNY’s University at Buffalo and Cornell University all had more international students, according to the data.

There were about 118,424 foreign students in New York, contributing about $4.6 billion to the state’s economy, according to the report.

New York was second to California, which was the No. 1 host state in the country. Nationally, foreign students contributed $36 billion to the U.S. economy, the report said.

The Top 5 in New York

Here are the public and private colleges in New York State with the highest number of international students in the 2016-17 academic year:

  • New York University: 17,326
  • Columbia University: 14,096
  • University at Buffalo: 7,252
  • Cornell University: 6,385
  • Stony Brook University: 5,739

Source: 2016-17 Open Doors report, Institute of International Education.

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