The United States attracts fewer international students and is losing billions in revenue. here’s why

For decades, the United States has been the number one destination for international students. A new documentary examines how this happened and what is at stake if that changes. // Rachel Sender for APM reports

The Biden administration hopes to attract tens of thousands of international students who have stayed away from U.S. campuses during the pandemic. Overseas registrations fell 20% last year almost costs $ 10 billion in lost revenue. Although some students are starting to return, recovery might not be so easy. Even before the pandemic, international students were already turning away the United States

In the 2018-2019 school year, overseas enrollment peaked at 1.1 million students and has been declining ever since, as countries like Australia, Canada and the UK gain more overseas students.

It is a challenge for American colleges. But it could also be a blow to American competitiveness. International students often continue to build their lives in the United States, filling our faculty offices, labs, boardrooms. One in five entrepreneurs who founded a startup in the United States is an immigrant – and three-quarters of them first came to America as students.

International students are more likely than Americans to pay full freight. At public universities, the tuition fees they pay out of state helped offset a decline in state funding, especially after the Great Recession.

“They [colleges] need tuition. They need to pay tuition for four years out of state, ”says Robert Daly, who heads the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center. Daly argues that colleges have become too dependent on students from just one country: China. “They I got addicted to this money.”

Higher education is one of the United States’ largest services exports

When the pandemic wiped out huge numbers of foreign students, the new administration took note. Higher education is one of the country’s largest service exports – larger than agricultural exports such as corn and soybeans.

Contrary to the Trump administration’s hostility towards foreigners, the Biden administration recently called it a “foreign policy imperative” that the United States remain the number one study destination for international students. It puts students on the front line for interviews and visa processing at U.S. consulates around the world.

But for many international students, the United States is just not as dominant. Emily Dobson calls him the “geoswerve”. Dobson, a university advisor in Brazil, has seen more diversity in the places her students apply to universities in recent years. She says they find options not only in traditional destinations like Australia and the UK, but also Qatar, Japan and the Czech Republic. “We no longer see the future that we used to see here,” she says of the United States. “I still love you. A few of you are on our list. But you know, we’re going to go to other schools.”

“The idea of ​​the American dream,” she said, “is increasingly being questioned.”

Dobsonian students are looking for more affordable options than in the United States and places where they can graduate in just three years. Safety is also a big concern – gun violence in the United States frightens many families.

Foreign student’s new hesitation causes big problems for US universities and economy

And 70% of international students on American campuses come from Asia. Recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes has made some of them reconsider their future in the United States At the start of the pandemic, Lily Cao, a Chinese student at Mount Holyoke College, was confronted in a grocery store with a woman accusing him of spreading the coronavirus. “COVID was really the trigger point where I thought to myself, Oh, I might be discriminated against,” Cao said. She plans to return to China for a career in public health.

This new hesitation means big problems for colleges – and for the U.S. economy as a whole, which is propelled by immigrant entrepreneurs, many of whom have come here as students. Competing countries, such as Australia and Canada, make it easy for international graduates to stay and work, and prioritize them over other applicants for permanent residence. Last year Britain introduced a Global Talent Visa that expedites people in in-demand areas for immigration. Universities in these countries frequently encourage the ability to work after graduation when recruiting international students.

American colleges are trying to regain their competitive advantage and the pandemic could offer some kind of model. After more than a year of distance learning, teachers and students are more comfortable with online education. More hybrid and online programs could shorten the time students would need in the United States. And colleges are hoping that a new commitment from the Biden administration to welcoming international students can rekindle the American dream of international students.

To learn more about how the United States has become the leader in international education, and the issues if it slips, check out this collaboration between The Chronicle of Higher Education and APM reports. The full documentary Fading Beacon: Why America Is Losing International Students is broadcast on public radio stations across the country and available through the Educate podcast.

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