International students are making a comeback in the United States, with just over a million enrolled in the 2022-2023 school year, according to data released by the State Department and Institute of International Education (IIE) on November 13.
This return marks a 12 percent increase over the prior academic year, indicating a positive trend, although the numbers are still below the pre-pandemic peak.
The return of international students is crucial for US higher education, as these students contribute significantly to the sector’s revenue. The pandemic led to a decline in the number of international students, causing financial challenges for colleges and universities.
The United States hosted approximately 348,000 international undergraduate students, marking a modest 0.9 percent increase from the previous year. Additionally, there were around 467,000 international graduate students, representing a substantial 21.3 percent rise compared to the preceding year.
Early figures indicate a likely continuation of international student growth. A poll involving over 630 colleges revealed an 8 percent increase in the number of international students hosted by these institutions for the academic year 2023-2024.
Decline in Chinese numbers in the US
While the United States remains a popular destination for higher education among Chinese students, there has been a notable decline in their numbers for the third consecutive year. The decrease is particularly significant among undergraduate and non-degree-seeking students, showing a reduction of about one-third from its peak.
“China really underperformed. If this was Wall Street, and we saw these numbers from China, the stock would plummet,” said Chris Glass, a higher education professor at Boston College. He also noted that the observed decline in the number of Chinese students studying in the US aligns with a broader trend of more Chinese students opting to pursue their education domestically.
Increase in sub-Saharan countries and India
The latest data revealed a notable increase in international students from sub-Saharan African countries, with an 18 percent rise, and from India, with a 35 percent increase.
Mirka Martel from the IIE suggests that one reason for the increase in students from sub-Saharan Africa and India is the high number of young people in these regions, combined with the limited capacity in their home countries to meet the demand for higher education.
Financial impact of international students
The financial impact of international students on a college or university depends on whether they are undergraduates, paying significant tuition fees, or graduate students receiving stipends.
India, for instance, sent approximately five times more graduate students than undergraduates, leading to significant revenue implications.
Stephanie Kim, a higher education professor at Georgetown University, noted that online education caters to a different demographic, often older adults who may not be as mobile as traditional students. She added that virtual classrooms have the capacity to accommodate a larger number of students compared to physical lecture halls.