New enrollment of foreign students jumped 80% last year, thanks to pent-up demand after border closures

Melissa Korn:

International students returned to U.S. college and university campuses in droves last fall, with schools recovering a portion of the enrollment they lost when visas were hard to come by and the nation closed its borders during the depths of the pandemic.

Enrollment by international students rose by 3.8% to 948,519 in the 2021-2022 school year, compared with 914,095 the prior year, according to a new report by the nonprofit Institute of International Education and U.S. State Department.

That gain was fueled by graduate students and was attributed to pent-up demand by those who had deferred their enrollment until they could move to campus. New-student enrollments jumped by 80%, to 261,961 in the 2021-2022 school year.

An early snapshot from this school year, collected by IIE and nine partner higher-education associations, shows a continued uptick in enrollments from overseas, across all academic levels. That survey, based on responses from more than 630 schools, showed total international enrollment rose by 9%, and new-student enrollment ticked up by 7%.

“The data show that U.S. institutions’ doors are open for international students,” said Mirka Martel, IIE’s head of research, evaluation and learning.

Though the trend is positive for U.S. institutions, international-student enrollment is still far off prepandemic levels; the U.S. had roughly 147,000 more students in undergraduate, graduate and nondegree courses or in postgraduate optional practical training programs in the 2018-2019 school year.