International student enrollment numbers are a helpful metric by which to understand how attractive the U.S. looks to foreign-born scholars. Recent trends are troubling, suggesting that America is losing its appeal as the top destination for foreign-born students.
From 2006 to 2015, enrollment of foreign-born students increased every year, and were growing at an increasing rate, peaking at 300,743 new enrollments for the 2015-2016 school year. In 2016, however, that growth bottomed out, and new enrollments of foreign-born students fell for the first time in decades. In fact, the number of new enrollments has fallen each year for the past four years, reversing what had been a decade-long trend of growth for every degree type, and overall enrollment has shrunk by 5% since 2019 (excluding students participating in Optional Practical Training (OPT)).
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically accelerated these declines. Early reports suggest that new international student enrollments for the 2020-2021 school year declined by as much as 43%.