In a typical year, more than 1 million students come from all over the world to study at U.S. colleges and universities. They’ve never had more reasons to reconsider. The coronavirus pandemic has brought health concerns, travel restrictions and shifting immigration rules; online classes and social distancing promise a diluted college experience at a full-strength price. Students from Asia, who make up three quarters of foreign nationals on U.S. campuses, have yet another concern. Anti-Asian bias and hate crimes are at an all-time high.
Foreign students contributed an estimated $41 billion to the economy in the 2018-19 academic year, according to NAFSA: Association of International Educators. The intangible benefits to the U.S. are harder to measure but no less real: By one count, more than 60 world leaders attended U.S. schools. Still, America’s near-monopoly on elite higher education is weakening. After 12 years of steady growth, the number of international students in the U.S. plateaued in 2019, Institute of International Education data show. Other countries including the U.K., Canada and Australia are eager to attract students from overseas.