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Report: International Students Returning to US

Students walk on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Report: International Students Returning to US
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A new report finds that more international students are coming to the United States after a sharp drop because of the coronavirus health crisis last year.

About 15 percent fewer international students studied in the U.S. or took classes from U.S. universities online during the school year that ended last spring compared to the year before.

Those findings were released recently by the Institute of International Education, IIE, based in New York City in partnership with the U.S. State Department. The IIE published the yearly “Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange.”

In 2021, the group found that students are coming back to the U.S. About four percent more students came to America for the 2021-2022 school year compared to last year.

During a presentation Monday, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Education said the coronavirus pandemic changed educational exchange a lot.

Matthew Lussenhop is the Acting Assistant Secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. He said he is hopeful about “the strength and resilience” of the world’s educational community during the last 20 months. He said the U.S. government knows how important international exchange is to building a more understanding world.

“We will continue to work together to expand access to global learning and engagement opportunities for international and American students, scholars and researchers.”

Fewer new students

IIE research showed that about 55,000 fewer Chinese students studied at U.S. universities last school year. That was the biggest drop. China sends the most students to the U.S. About 30 percent of the international student population in America comes from China. India is second with 18 percent.

Most international students studying in the U.S. come from China, followed by India.
Most international students studying in the U.S. come from China, followed by India.

The most popular fields of study for international students are engineering, math and computer science. Over 40 percent of international students study those subjects each year.

The pandemic cut by 45 percent the number of new international students studying in the U.S. The report included students taking classes in person and those attending classes by video from home. About 45,000 fewer international students worked on graduate degrees during the 2020-2021 school year compared to the year before. The IIE report showed that the number of students already studying in the U.S. did not change very much, dropping just three percent.

Most international students studying in the U.S. center their work in STEM subjects.
Most international students studying in the U.S. center their work in STEM subjects.

The recent report was not as worrying as some people expected based on the increase in coronavirus infections over the summer. The Associated Press reported that a slowdown in visa processing, vaccinations and international travel for young people were the reasons for the lower numbers.

For example, Vinh Le is a student from Vietnam studying at the University of San Francisco. He only made it to California on November 1 because of travel restrictions at home. He was not able to get vaccinated and to Ho Chi Minh City for a flight to the U.S. Instead, he took classes by computer from home for two months.

He said his professors were “very supportive” and helped him by recording classes so he could watch them in Vietnam.

Some Chinese students who are supposed to be taking classes at New York University, NYU, but cannot get to the U.S., are using the university’s center in Shanghai for study. In normal times, that center is used by NYU’s American students studying in China.

New York University has done well retaining and attracting international students during the pandemic.
New York University has done well retaining and attracting international students during the pandemic.

NYU is doing better than in 2019. The school said 14 percent more international students are taking classes this year compared to before the pandemic.

At the University of Illinois, the school lost 28 percent of its international students last school year. But this year, student numbers have returned to the level of 2019-2020.

"A return to normal"

Andy Borst is the University of Illinois director of undergraduate admissions. Undergraduates are students who have not yet earned a college degree. He said those students increased the most. India sent 70 percent more students than before the pandemic.

He called the numbers “a return to normal for our international populations.” He said the demand for higher education was “pent-up.”

Lussenhop, from the State Department, said the U.S. expects the increase in student interest to continue because students “continue to value a U.S. education.”

Some people give credit to the administration of President Joe Biden for speaking in support of international students. In July, U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona recorded video messages that welcomed international students to the U.S.

Rachel Banks is director of public policy and legislative planning for NAFSA, an organization that supports international education based in Washington. She said the new administration is telling the world international students are important for the U.S.

Experts are worried, however, that the increase in students will only help schools that are already popular. They think smaller schools and community colleges may not recover. Across the U.S., the two-year schools suffered a 24 percent loss of international students.

In addition, researchers are still trying to find out if the jump in students will continue past this school year. Universities in Canada, Australia and Great Britain were competing for students with the U.S. even before the pandemic.

I’m Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell wrote this story for Learning English based on a report by the Associated Press and information from IIE. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

Do you think the number of international students in the U.S. will continue to grow after this year? Tell us in the Comments Section and visit our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

resilience – n. the ability to be strong enough to recover quickly after a crisis

engagement n. the act or state of being involved with something scholars – n. someone who has been given a scholarship

graduate degree –n. a degree given by a college or university to someone who has already received an undergraduate degree

pent-up – adj. held or kept inside; not released yet