California remains the top US destination for foreign students, who primarily come from China and India, with enrollment dipping slightly in the 2018-19 school year for the first time in at least a decade, according to a survey released Monday.
Nationally, new enrollments of international students declined for the third year in a row although overall numbers are at a record high of nearly 1.1 million, according to a survey of 2,800 US colleges and universities released by the Institute of International Education and the US State Department.
The number of students from China, who account for one-third of all international students in the United States, increased by 1.7% while those from India grew by 2.9%.
Some university officials have questioned whether the Trump administration’s harder line on immigration and China is driving international students toward more welcoming environments in other countries.
But US college costs are the single largest concern expressed by prospective foreign students and their families, Allan E. Goodman, the Institute of International Education’s president, said in a recent teleconference to preview the report.
A 2017 survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that the average US public college tuition was the highest among some 35 member nations surveyed — about $8,200 annually, more than twice as high as the average.
Caroline Casagrande, deputy assistant secretary of State for academic programs, said new student enrollment began declining in 2015 under the Obama administration and has begun to stabilize. The number of new undergraduates decreased at a slower rate in 2018-19 than in the previous two years while graduate students increased.
California continues to attract the most international students — 161,693 — with six of the nation’s top 20 host universities located in the state. USC remained the most popular campus, enrolling 16,340 foreign students in 2018-19, followed by 11,942 at UCLA, 10,652 at UC San Diego, 10,063 at UC Berkeley, 8,064 at UC Irvine and 8,048 at UC Davis.
About 42% of the California foreign students are from China and 12.6% from India. Overall, international students helped boost the state economy by spending an estimated $6.8 billion on tuition, housing, food and other items, the report said.
“We do feel like diversification is a good thing,” said Anthony Bailey, USC vice president for strategic and global initiatives. “But we hope to continue to have Chinese mainland students for many, many years to come. With the volume we have and the levels of talent that they have, we don’t think other markets are going to replace China and India. We think there’s more opportunity in both.”
The 10-campus University of California system is moving to recruit more diverse students rather than significantly increase their numbers of foreign students.
UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla said international students will continue to flock to UC campuses because of their quality. But he said smaller colleges and universities might suffer under the Trump administration’s more restrictive immigration policies, and he urged the United States to keep out the welcome mat.