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University Officials In North Texas Talk About Why Foreign Student Enrollment Is Down


Recent headlines, like the Trump administration’s efforts to restrict travelers from certain countries, have raised questions in education circles about whether U.S. politics are having an impact on foreign student enrollment at American universities. 

A recent report explores the state of international enrollment, while local university officials are monitoring their numbers.

The enrollment study

In a new report called “Open Doors” by the Institute of International Education, the overall number of international students grew 3.4 percent during the 2016-17 school year over the previous academic year.

That brought the total number of international students to nearly 1.08 million – or 35,000 more students – than the year before.

The number of new international students enrolled in fall 2016 declined by 3 percent – or 10,000 students – from the previous year. This is the first time in 12 years the number of new international students has declined.

The report cites a number of reasons for the drop, including global and local economic conditions and higher education opportunities in a student’s home country.

Enrollment in North Texas

Some schools have seen a decline in their enrollment of international students.

"We did notice and we're told by colleagues abroad and even faculty here that there is quite a bit of talk about 'What is happening in the United States?'"

At the University of Texas at Arlington, the total enrollment number is up, but the number of foreign students is down by more than 400.

UTA has its highest enrollment of undergraduate international students this year, but the number of graduate international students is down 14 percent.

Troy Johnson, vice president for enrollment management at UTA, said:

“We did notice and we’re told by colleagues abroad and even faculty here that there is quite a bit of talk about ‘What is happening in the United States?’ and ‘What will happen in terms of the future opportunities for students that study there or students that even finish degrees? Will jobs and all be available?’”

At the University of North Texas, foreign student enrollment was down 9 percent this fall versus last fall, according to university officials.

Lauren Jacobsen, interim director for international students and scholar services at UNT, said:

“We’ve seen an increase in global competition for international students, so students have more options now than they have in the past in terms of going to education in Canada or in the UK or Australia. They’ve all increased their recruitment efforts.”

How local universities are responding

UTA has hosted town hall meetings with help of the university's Office of International Education and the Division of Student Affairs. UTA's president visited China this fall to promote the school and develop the relationship with education officials there.

At UNT, President Neal Smatresk wrote a letter to students and faculty that said the school was “deeply concerned about the well-being” of those on campus. The letter welcomed students and said diversity is the school’s strength. It included a list of resources, such as counseling and legal services.

The school also created a "You are Welcome at UNT" video.

Note: UNT president Neal Smatresk is a member of the KERA board of directors.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.