While the focus of many media stories on this year’s Open Doors Report has centered largely on the continued decrease in new international student enrollments for the third year in a row, a deeper dive into the data shows there may be light at the end of the tunnel. Key markets are still increasing in degree-seeking students, other top-25 markets are also on the up, and the focus on STEM-related programs shows no signs of abating.
The total number of enrolled undergraduate students increased by 0.85% in 2017–18 but decreased by 2.44% in 2018–19 according to the Institute of International Education’s annual international student census. The PIE News’ initial Open Doors piece presented perhaps the most balanced view so far on this year’s numbers: stabilization in the drop of new international student numbers. The peak for new international enrollments was highest in 2015/16 at 300,743. In the past three years, the number of new enrollments dropped by 10.4%, but in 2018-19, it only dropped by 0.9%. The slightly better news: if we look at only degree-seeking undergrad and graduate students (taking out non-degree) the number of newly enrolled students this past year is basically even (UG down 1.5%, GR up 1.6%).
Looking a bit more closely at sending countries, China and India remain on top, representing 52% of the total. While the number of Chinese and Indian students in the United States is still on an upward trajectory (up 1.7 and 2.9%, respectively) their growth has slowed considerably in the past three years. Surprisingly, Taiwan recorded a growth rate above 4% for the second year in a row. More good news comes from three other top-25 source countries, which demonstrate a more robust future: Brazil (+9.8%), Nigeria (+5.8%), and Pakistan (+5.6%). More on these markets later.
One of the noteworthy trends identified in this Inside Higher Ed story reflects on the drop in business interest among international students, offset by the rise of math and computer science. STEM, to no one’s surprise, is now driving more overseas interest in the United States as a study destination. This trend is certainly confirmed by IDP Connect Insights, which show health and medicine have been the top academic fields of interest since 2016–17, while business and management interest has declined for students considering the United States during this same period. Additionally, Insights shows that searches for engineering programs have also decreased, aligning with the decline in the number of international students pursuing engineering degrees in Open Doors from the previous year.
Now, let’s return to Brazil, Nigeria, and Pakistan. In Latin America, Brazil (#9 overall) represents the largest single market in South America (16,059), with more students in the U.S. than Colombia (#21) and Venezuela (#23) combined. Undergrads represent 48.4%, grads 29.5%, non-degree 9.4% and OPT 12.7%. Three of the four categories (except UG) saw double-digit increases. When we look at fields of study, from the IDP Connect Insights data, Brazilian prospective students are increasingly being driven by an interest in the humanities (up from 17.8% to 19.5%). Health and medicine (15.1%) and engineering (14.4%) rank second and third. Nearly 200,000 prospective Brazilian students currently identify the U.S. as their preferred destination within IDP Connect Insights.
Nigeria (#11 overall), the #1 market in Africa for U.S.-bound international students, is perhaps a more evenly distributed population with 42.4% UG, 39.3% GR, 2.7% non-degree, and 15.6% OPT. Despite a small drop in undergrad students this past year (-3.4%), grad and OPT saw 10.8% and 12.4% jumps, respectively. For Nigerian prospective students considering the U.S. (IDP Connect Insights shows over 29,000 – up 11% in the last year), health and medicine now are the most popular fields at 21.7%, followed by applied and pure sciences (16.4%), then engineering (13.3%). Over 24,000 Nigerian students have registered their interest in the U.S. through IDP’s student-facing digital services, including Hotcourses.com and IDP.com.
Pakistan might seem to be an odd inclusion in this review, particularly given concerns over perceptional impacts of recent travel bans. But coming in at #22 on this year’s Open Doors top-25 sending countries, this South Asian nation deserves a look. Since 2011, Pakistani students have increased by 73% to nearly 8,000 enrolled in the 2018-19 academic year. Each category (UG, GR, non-degree, OPT) increased in the last year, with undergraduates leading the way at 44% of all Pakistani students. Interestingly, IDP Connect Insights data reflects that prospective students favor health and medicine fields of study at 30%, with applied and pure sciences (16.7%) and engineering (14.4%) rounding out the top three academic fields. At present, 10,000+ Pakistani students have identified the U.S. as their preferred destination across IDP’s sites.
Why is this data significant? Currently, over 21 million international students are using IDP’s digital products to search for post-secondary options around the world. From these impressive numbers, 16.4% (over 3.5 million) are considering the U.S. Additionally, In 2018-19, IDP (parent company of IDP Connect) students accounted for 1.5% of all new undergrad and graduate students enrolling in the United States. IDP saw large increases in both application and enrollment numbers in 2018–19 with 14,240 applications, a 40% increase, and 3,512 enrollments, a 64% increase. The future looks brighter, indeed.
For more information on how you can access IDP Connect Insights as part of your international student recruitment initiatives, contact Elle Butler, Marketing Manager, IDP Connect USA.