For the first time in 35 years, total enrollment of international students in U.S. colleges and universities has dropped, according to multiple sources using National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Education data.
As pointed out in the Brookings report cited above, one of the effects of this downward trend is a negative impact on college revenue. International students typically do not receive financial aid from the institutions in which they enroll, which means they pay full tuition in a time when that is not the norm. So, international students can provide much needed cash in an era when state appropriations for public institutions and high tuition discount rates at private institutions are eating away at the revenue stream.
We saw a foreshadowing of this in the Chronicle Pricing Survey that I conducted with the Chronicle of Higher Education in the fall of 2017. Fifty-nine percent of presidents and chief financial officers at private not-for-profit colleges and 40% at public institutions told us they were either "extremely" or "very" concerned about potential federal policies resulting in a "diminished ability to attract international students."
There are many benefits of enrolling international students besides tuition revenue. But the decrease in this source of revenue will need to be offset by an increase in other sources, and the one source that colleges and universities have the most control over is tuition. The decrease in enrollment of international students could mean an even larger increase in tuition for U.S. students. In an era when college tuition needs to go down and not up, the loss of international students is a move in the wrong direction.