This article explores the history of international education in the US and its potential future prospects here and globally. Colleges and universities in the United States typically attract more than a million international students annually, with Asian countries sending the most students. A strategy that began in the nineteenth century with missionary goals and evolved into a tool of Cold War diplomacy morphed in the 2000s into a critical part of higher education’s business model, generating $44 billion in annual revenue. More flexible visa policies towards international students coupled with the impact of the Great Recession drove an expansion of recruitment efforts, with international students helping hold down tuition for US residents and make up for lost state support. Colleges and universities’ growing financial reliance on international students, particularly from China, made them vulnerable in the face of the Trump administration’s anti-China politics and travel bans. The COVID-19 pandemic in turn triggered institutional shutdowns, travel restrictions and consular closures, along with fears of growing anti-Asian racism. Longer-term concerns with the costs and uncertain return on investment of a US degree and immigration policies that limit students’ opportunities to remain and work in the US have also eroded the appeal of an American education. International student enrollment in the US dropped 72 percent in 2020, even as international students have been increasingly looking to institutions in other receiving countries such as Britain, Canada and Australia. A pandemic-driven shift to online learning and the creation of satellite international campuses have helped US institutions weather these challenges, and demand for student visas to the US rebounded in May and June to 93 percent of 2019 levels. The long-term picture remains uncertain, however, as international students explore a wider range of options and new regional clusters of sending countries and culturally or linguistically linked institutions grow across the globe. At the same time, the absence of clear pathways to employment and permanent residence erodes the appeal of the U.S. as a preferred destination for many international students. (Jeffrey Gross, Ph.D.)
Fading Beacon: American May Never Regain its Dominance as a Destination for Foreign Students. Here’s Why that Matters,
American Public Media & The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 3, 2021, 6 pp.
Authors: Karen Fischer & Sasha Aslanian