STUDY: Fewer foreign students in American colleges for first time in over 10 years

A recent study found that for the first time in 13 years, the foreign undergraduate student population in the U.S. decreased.

“That’s crazy,” an immigration expert told Campus Reform.

However, thanks to the Optional Practice Training (OPT) program, the overall number of international students hit an all-time high.

According to a new study by the Institute of International Education, the number of foreign students in undergraduate U.S. colleges and universities declined for the first time in 13 years. 

The study showed that since last year, there are approximately 11,000 fewer foreign undergraduates, which is about a 2.4 percent decrease. There were also decreases in the number of graduate and non-degree students. 

In all three categories, there were nearly 20,000 fewer foreign students. 

The top two countries of origin for foreign students in the U.S. are China and India, which make up a combined 52.1 percent of foreign students. 

According to the Washington Post, the new data may present future problems for colleges and universities that rely on international students for much of their revenue, since international students typically do not receive as much financial aid as domestic students and typically pay higher tuition. 

While the number of undergraduate and graduate foreign students declined, the number of international students, overall, increased and reached an all-time high. This is due to the Optional Practice Training (OPT) program, which, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is a “temporary employment” program related to students on F-1 visas. The program allows qualifying students to be employed for a year or more (depending on the degree area) before obtaining a degree, and/or after obtaining a degree. 

The OPT program has been criticized as a subsidy for corporations paid for by American workers because corporations do not pay payroll taxes for OPT employees. Therefore corporations can hire OPT students at a discount when compared to American workers.

Over the last five years, the number of OPT students has increased from 120,287 to more than 223,000 in the 2018/2019 academic year. The number increased by approximately 9.6 percent last year. 

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David North, a resident scholar at the Center for Immigration Studies who deals with the interaction between education and migration, told Campus Reform that the increase in OPT students is “crazy,” and that the program is a subsidy that allows foreign students to stay after graduation. 

“After graduation I would not mind a program that would allow some of the foreign students -- not all by any means -- to work here for a while,” North argued. “But what we have now is not only a total welcome for all alien students to stay here with OPT subsidies -- that’s crazy!”

“We might have a limited program with no subsidies, but instead we have in OPT, a non-limited program with heavy subsidies.”

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North added that he thinks the presence of foreign students in the U.S. can be a good thing if done properly. 

“I think it is good for there to be a number of foreign students in a given college, it makes the college years more interesting for both the students and the professors; hopefully the students will go home after experiencing what America has to offer with a good taste in their mouths,” North said. “But you do not need massive [numbers] of foreign students to make that impact, and you need a mix of people from all over, not huge concentrations from one or two nations.”

Trump administration and State Department official Marie Royce celebrated the new heights reached by the OPT students. 

“We are happy to see the continued growth in the number of international students in the United States and U.S. students studying abroad,” Royce said. “Promoting international student mobility remains a top priority for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and we want even more students in the future to see the United States as the best destination to earn their degrees. International exchange makes our colleges and universities more dynamic for all students and an education at a U.S. institution can have a transformative effect for international students, just like study abroad experiences can for U.S. students.”

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