US enrolment drops see economy $12.1bn worse off

Analysing data from the 2021 Open Doors report, along with tuition and expense statistics from the National Center of Educational Statistics and job creation data from the International Trade Administration and Bureau of Economic Analysis, the international education association found that during 2020/21 international students at US colleges and universities contributed $28.4 billion to the US economy.

This marks a decline of almost 27% from the previous academic year – equivalent to $10.3 billion – which the organisation says is largely down to the pandemic.

The findings point to a pressing need from a national recruitment and retention strategy, NAFSA noted.

“This significant drop in economic activity is not surprising, yet it need not be a trend that we are resigned to seeing continue”

“Given the severe impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on international academic mobility, this significant drop in economic activity is not surprising, yet it need not be a trend that we are resigned to seeing continue,” said Esther D. Brimmer, NAFSA executive director and CEO.

A coordinated governmental approach that both attracts and retains international student talent would greatly assist efforts by institutions to support international students in a safe and effective manner during a challenging time, Brimmer continued.

“We urge the Biden administration to advance its commitment to international education by adopting a comprehensive national strategy that would help restore and diversify international student enrolment on US campuses.

“The vital academic, cultural, and economic contributions of international students and scholars are essential to our ongoing recovery from the pandemic.”

The drop in students revealed in the 2020 Open Doors report translated to loss of $1.8 billion, NAFSA said in 2020. This year’s findings are the second time and second year in a row that the economic contribution had decreased since the organisation began recording international student economic impact over 20 years ago.

Of the 2020/21 academic year’s $10.3 billion drop, NAFSA estimates $9.4 billion (or 91%) is solely attributable to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Other findings among NAFSA’s analysis includes that the number of jobs supported by financial contributions of international students declined by some 26.4% – a fall of 109,688 – to support a total of  306,308 jobs in 2020/21.

The number of states that saw economic impacts of more than $1 billion reduced from nine in 2019/20, to seven in 2020/21.

California, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas, Illinois and Florida were the top seven states for amounts of economic activity.

Additionally, international student spending at US community colleges was down 36% to reach $1.5 billion and supported 37.4% fewer jobs, totalling 7,580.

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