A report released Monday showed that U.S. universities are becoming less appealing to international students, adding to the financial woes of many less prestigious schools.
The annual report on international education exchange by the Institute of International Education (IIE) showed that newly enrolled international students in 2016 dropped by 3.3 percent from the previous year, registering the first decrease since the study began 12 years ago.
The study showed that 290,836 new international students entered the United States in the fall of 2016, compared with 300,743 at the same time 2015.
By an preliminary assessment on nearly 500 colleges and universities, newly enrolled international students in the fall of 2017 dropped another seven percent year on year, fortifying the conclusion that U.S. universities are attracting less students from overseas.
Despite the overall drop, the impact was not felt evenly across the board. Broken down by institutions, 45 percent of the campuses reported declines in new enrollments for fall 2017, while 31 percent reported increases and 24 percent reported no change from last year.
The trend for students pursuing different academic levels also varied. Both the numbers for undergraduate and graduate degrees rose, but was offset by a significant cut in the number of students joining non-degree programs, such as short-term exchanges and intensive English language programs.
The pie chart of the countries of origin for international students has also been reshaped. China and India, which topped the chart as the biggest contributor of international students, still showed strong interest in the U.S. education system. Chinese students rose 6.8 percent year on year in 2016 to make up nearly one third of all international students in the United States, while Indian students rose 12.3 percent to make up 17.3 percent.
The biggest drop came from Saudi Arabia and Brazil, showing 14.2 and 32.4 percent drops respectively.
According to researchers of the study, less international students have hurt the financial standings of many universities and exacerbated a trend in the United States where the budget gap between top and average schools is expanding.
In 2016, international students spend 39 billion U.S. dollars here on tuition, room and board and living expenses, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
"International student exchange is an essential contributor to America's economic competitiveness and national security." Alyson Grunder, a State Department official in charge of cultural affairs, said.
According to analysts, increased competition from other Western countries, less public funding in some countries to support exchange programs and political instability in the United States contributed to the dip in incoming students.
Allan Goodman, the president of IIE, said Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia are all stepping up the effort to woo international students. In Saudi Arabia and Brazil, with governments having rolled back on their sponsored education exchange programs, the number of students coming to the United States subsequently lowered.
"Concerns around the travel ban had a lot to do with concerns around personal safety based on a few incidents involving international students, and a generalized concern about whether they're safe," Rajika Bhandari, head of research for the IIE, said.
Despite the drop, the study found that the total number of overseas students studying in the United States continued to rise, hitting a record-setting 1.08 million in the 2016/17 school year. The increase can be partially explained by the increasing number of students choosing to lengthen their stay in the United States after their studies.