A new Open Doors report from the Institute of International Education showed a 3.8% increase in the number of international students studying in the United States for the 2021-22 academic year. While the population is not yet back to pre-pandemic numbers, this report marks a promising upward trend following the precipitous 15% decline in 2020-21.
Additionally, the report notes that the enrollment of new international students saw significant boosts—the overall number of newly enrolled international students increased by 80%, with a 31% increase in undergraduate students and a steep 121.7% increase in graduate students. It also notes that the three most common fields of study amongst international students include math and computer science, engineering, and business and management.
While the numbers represent a generally positive trend, some concerning pandemic-era trends persist. Although Chinese students account for roughly 30% of the international student population in the U.S., the number decreased by 8.6% from 2020-21. The rate of decline amongst undergraduates was particularly significant at 12.8%. At the same time, the number of Indian students in the U.S. rose by 18.9%, making the demographic the second largest international student population behind China.
The U.S. international student population peaked in 2018-19 with 1,095,299 students from outside of the U.S. enrolled in American colleges and universities. The COVID-19 pandemic slashed that number by almost 200,000 students, leading to a total number of 914,095 international students in 2020-21. Many feared that the declines—and universities’ potential inability to recover pre-pandemic international enrollment—could have significant long-term financial consequences for institutions of higher education. Business Insider reported that in 2015, international students accounted for approximately 28% of universities’ tuition revenue, topping $9 billion dollars—a number which only increased in the following years with the consistent growth in the overall enrollment of international students. With the pandemic’s devastating impact on international student enrollment, universities across the country lost almost $10 billion dollars of revenue.
The CEO of the Institute of International Education, Alan Goodman, regards the upward trend as a testament to the resilience of the international student population, reflected in the historical data collected by IIE. According to Inside Higher Education, Goodman stated that: “We have over 100 years of data on international student mobility to the United States. This data includes 12 pandemics and shows that educational exchanges occur even during them and grow rapidly afterwards.”