6 Things to Know About International Students in the U.S

The number of international students in the U.S. reached an all-time high – 1,078,822 students – during the 2016-2017 school year, according to a report released today.

The outlook, however, is mixed for U.S. colleges hoping to recruit more international students to their campuses.

Here are six takeaways from this year"s Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, an annual survey from the Institute of International Education in partnership with the U.S. Department of State"s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

1. The number of international students in the U.S. has increased for 11 consecutive years. In 2006-2007, there were roughly 583,000 international students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities. This total has gone up every year since, according to data from IIE.

The number of international students in the U.S. first topped 1 million in 2015-2016.

2. New international student enrollment is slowing down. The number of international students enrolled at U.S. institutions for the first time decreased in fall 2016, down 3.3 percent from the previous year. This is the first drop in the 12 years that IIE has been collecting this information.

A second survey from the organization, conducted in September and October, reveals some colleges experienced a decline in international student enrollment in the most recent admissions cycle. The Fall 2017 International Student Enrollment Snapshot Survey comprises responses from around 500 schools, while the Open Doors report is based on data from more than 2,000 institutions.

Schools that responded to the snapshot survey reported a 7 percent decline in new international student enrollment, which would indicate a second year of the downward trend.

3. Postgraduation training accounted for much of the growth in 2016-2017. A total of 175,695 international students took part in optional practical training in 2016-2017, an increase of 19.1 percent from the year before. OPT allows international students to remain in the U.S. after completing their studies for real-world training in fields related to their degree.

There were small increases in the number of international students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate degree programs, while nondegree programs, such as English language programs, saw a noticeable decrease for the second year in a row.

The growth in OPT participation was likely fueled by the Obama administration"s 2016 decision to allow trainees in science, technology, engineering or math, or STEM, fields to apply for longer work periods, says Rajika Bhandari, head of research, policy and practice at IIE.

4. Half of the international students in the U.S. are from China or India. Though the number of students from these countries is growing, the pace has been slowing for the last several years, per IIE data.

While China and India send the most, overall, international students in the U.S. hail from more than 200 countries, says Bhandari.

5. Some, but not all, schools are having trouble bringing new students to campus. According to the smaller-scale fall 2017 snapshot survey, 45 percent of responding institutions saw declines in new enrollments, but 31 percent reported increases.

Institutions that experienced bigger drops tended to be less selective, located in the Midwest or focused on associate and master"s degree programs, per the survey.

There haven"t been any big shifts in the number of international students enrolling at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, says Heidi Meyer, executive director of admissions. She notes there was a slight decline in freshman international student applications for fall 2017, but the total number who accepted and enrolled went up.

A much smaller Midwest school, Marietta College, has seen a downward trend in its number of degree-seeking international undergrads over the last five years or so. Stephen Lazowski, vice president for enrollment management at the Ohio school, says there"s been a considerable drop in degree-seeking Chinese students.

In response, the college is considering ways to diversify recruitment efforts. For example, Lazowski says the college is evaluating lowering its on-campus housing requirement from two years to one, which it hopes will appeal to students from Saudi Arabia in particular. He says current Saudi students suggested that the longer residency requirement might be one reason more students from the country aren"t choosing Marietta.

6. Many factors are likely contributing to the decreased number of new students. The cancellation of a large Brazilian government scholarship program as well as changes to a scholarship program offered by the Saudi government contributed to decreases in students from these two countries on U.S. campuses.

Also playing a part are the actions other countries are taking to attract nonnative students to their universities, says Bhandari from IIE.

Countries such as Canada and Germany have developed national strategies for recruiting more international students, she says. The focus of such initiatives varies, Bhandari says, and may include providing scholarships, offering more programs in English and easing the pathway into the workforce for students after graduation.

Other factors cited by colleges in the snapshot survey include the increasing cost of U.S. higher education, visa delays or denials and "an uncertain U.S. social and political climate." The latter includes, among other things, concerns about the Trump administration"s travel ban and personal safety in the U.S., says Bhandari.