Foreign Student Enrollment Falls from Record High

Should anyone really care if there are fewer foreign students in U.S. universities and other schools?

In a news summary, Politico reports that the enrollment of foreign students in the U.S. this year has fallen under the Trump administration. The decrease was reported by the Institute for International Education (IIE). According federal data –  which captures data on some students not included in the IEE data – enrollment in 2016 was 1.23 million and had increased by 10.1 percent from 2015.

Those who may be bemoaning this new report are the universities – especially state schools – that benefit financially from foreign students who are charged full tuition rates. Others who see a benefit from a wider pipeline of foreign students are businesses that employ foreign students as interns and new graduates in the so-called Optional Practical Training” program This government program provides cut-rate employees and contributes to a flow of job seekers that counters pressure on employers to offer higher wages.

Those who may benefit from scaling back the flow of foreign students are U.S. students facing limited admission opportunities especially in state schools – as has been the case, for example, in graduate programs in California. Similarly, U.S. graduates would have both job prospects and starting wages improved if there were a narrowing in the foreign student pipeline.

Another consideration is the so-called ‘brain drain’ in which foreign countries lose some of their ‘best and brightest’ nationals to the U.S. when they come here to study and remain to benefit from higher wages than they would earn at home.

The argument by IIE and the academic and business boosters of higher enrollment levels of foreign student enrollment is that the students will go to other countries for their studies. But that is not necessarily a bad thing for Americans seeking educational and employment opportunities. It also ignores the fact that, even after a moderate decline, more than a million foreign students are enrolled at U.S. educational institutions.

In sum, there are divergent interests in the flow of students abroad. At present there is no limit on how many foreign students may enter the U.S. Effectively it is in the hands of the U.S. universities. That raises the question as to whether the interest of the universities and employers should be accepted as representing the national interest.

About Author


Jack, who joined FAIR’s National Board of Advisors in 2017, is a retired U.S. diplomat with consular experience. He has testified before the U.S. Congress, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform and has authored studies of immigration issues. His national and international print, TV, and talk radio experience is extensive (including in Spanish).


  1. avatar

    Its Time to Wake Up

    STEM is not S/W development, source code for i.e., Microsoft is not taught in colleges and is a company trade secret learned with on the job training only. A high school diploma is all that’s needed for IT tech jobs. They use STEM to hike their H-1Bs for no reason.

  2. avatar
    lance johnson on

    Yes indeed, we should care! Sadly though, Trump’s contentious issue is affecting enrollments and is yet one more thing that makes being an international student away from home difficult, compounded by our complex culture and language problems. Welcoming and assimilation assistance must come from numerous sources, including the White House, to aid these young people embarking on life’s journey. Most struggle in their efforts and need guidance from schools’ international departments, immigration protection, host families, concerned neighbors and fellow students, and even informative books to extend a cultural helping hand.
    Something that might help anyone coming to the US is the award-winning worldwide book/ebook “What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” Used in foreign Fulbright student programs and endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it identifies how “foreigners” have become successful in the US, including students.
    It explains how to cope with a confusing new culture and friendship process, and daunting classroom differences. It explains how US businesses operate and how to get a job (which differs from most countries), a must for those who want to work with/for an American firm here or overseas.
    It also identifies the most common English grammar and speech problems foreigners have and tips for easily overcoming them, the number one stumbling block they say they have to succeeding here.
    Good luck to all wherever you study or wherever you come from, because that is the TRUE spirit of the American PEOPLE, not a few in government who shout the loudest! Supporters of int’l students must shout louder.

    • avatar

      Does your wonderful spin job include all the Chinese students who come here and steal our ideas and technology. It’s always Russia Russia Russia but China is our number one economic, military, and political enemy. Why should we be educating their citizens.

      • avatar

        Yes Leland

        They come from China with phony Chinese college transcripts too…to steal American slots. The colleges may be desperate for students today too, since the college loan and job opportunities make the college advantage a complete economic planning joke lately too.

        Ask the 50 YO unemployed RNs…..laid off Manufacturing Engineers…..etc, etc…

      • avatar

        I’d Bet Dollars to Doughnuts

        Lance works at an American college and has a job, unlike a lion’s share of the American legal citizen college graduates.

    • avatar

      Wow! If the Universities are “losing” so many students, why then are they raising their rates? Are YOU implying that American students are not as intelligent as Foreign students?
      FYI: Trump has NOTHING to do with the idiots and morons enrolled in Universities. You moron!

  3. avatar

    if I were them, I certainly wouldn’t want any education here…too many politics involved…,I wouldn’t even send my own son to college…too much wasted money on their libtard policies

  4. avatar

    We are American, many generations in US, My son was the only Amercian in his Computer Science major at State University. .Rest were all from India. His early school years were taken over by Mexican children attending. Most did not live locally. Schools were taken over to make room, we locals were pushed aside. We need to care of our own first.

    • avatar
      Patricia Watkins on

      The issue is that most liberals (especially the rabid ones) think America should be a free for all with open borders. Look at all the illegal migrants who are roaming around America and most of them have never been vetted. America is significantly changing due to the mentality of bringing them all in. The mentality of “diversity.” Diversity is good in some ways, but not in every way. Such as ISIS. When you allow open borders and welcome in tens of thousands of immigrants from terrorist prone countries, you are bringing in a potentially volatile type of diversity. There are quite a few Immigrants, including Muslims, who are allowed in but they hate America. Look at 9/11. Those radicals were on Visa’s and attended some of America’s schools. Then they turned on America in a violent and deadly way. There are the Salvadorians who were allowed here in the 80’s and became the gang called MS-13 who actively recruits new young migrants. Trump is trying to turn the ship around, but radical liberals won’t let him.

  5. avatar

    The original stated justification for allowing foreign students to enter the US and study at our institutions was to allow them to obtain the skills necessary to lift up their own nations. It was never intended to be a pipeline of Cheap Labor for either the institutions themselves [ie. cheap graduate instructors] or corporations. But, like most ‘government programs’ those who saw a way to corrupt it towards their own enrichment quickly did so.