US: SEVIS figures confirm international student drop

Published 29/04/2019

Newly-released SEVIS figures from the US Department of Homeland Security have confirmed the drop in international students that was signalled by the IIE’s Open Doors report.

Students on F + M visas, for both academic and vocational studies, were down a combined 3% across the US.

“The canary in the coal mine stopped singing a few years back”

The data, released in raw form and via an interactive map, shows that some states lost thousands of students – with California standing out, falling from 195,265 students in 2018 to 186,928 according to the March 2019 count.

Others like Texas lost more than 5,000 students, and New York lost around 2,000 students.

But others, notably Massachusetts with a wealth of prestigious institutions like Harvard and MIT, saw an increase to its global student body. In 2018 the New England state had nearly 74,000 international students, and this year it had almost 76,000.

David Di Maria, associate vice provost for international education at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, was unmoved by the new stats.

“I don’t believe the new data are very surprising to anyone. The canary in the coal mine stopped singing a few years back after changes were made to major scholarship programs, so a decline was inevitable,” he told The PIE News.

But he’s not only a commentator – he was recently invited to take part in a Congressional briefing with the staff of top-ranking politicians to explain the international education market situation. And he told them there’s a solution.

“While I recognise that policies, priorities and support for higher education vary greatly across each of the 50 states, a national strategy would at least help to coordinate efforts and resources at the federal level,” he said.

“Regarding the disparity between states and regions, I believe a national strategy could include incentives for international students to enrol at institutions located in areas where domestic enrolment is declining. Other incentives could encourage recent graduates to pursue practical training or employment in regions, states and industries where there is a clear labor shortage.”

“Study Hawai’i discussed this and are not overly concerned”

“I would also hope that any national strategy would not just be limited to the recruitment of international students, but also aim to increase the number of US students going abroad and support international research collaborations,” he added.

But away from the headline figures, many states with smaller numbers of students, like the island state of Hawai’i or those Great Plain expanses like Montana and Wyoming, saw little change, at worst a small loss.

However, Joel Weaver, co-founder of the Study Hawai’i Educational Consortium, said the figures weren’t a worry on “the islands of Aloha”.

“We’ve been discussing this among Study Hawai’i members this week, and we are not overly concerned.

“Study Hawaii members are not ‘circling the wagons’, but are looking at ways to continue to work more effectively together to promote the outstanding opportunities for getting a world-class education here in the islands of Aloha.

“We continue to see strong engagement with Japan and South Korea”

“We know that events and actions outside of our control, especially by the current US administration, may be the cause of some of the decline,” he told The PIE.

Weaver said the ELT sector was the foundation to the relative stability in Hawai’i, with East Asian recruitment especially strong.

“Especially in the ELT sector we are continuing to see strong engagement with our regular source countries in east Asia, such as Japan and Korea.”

But it’s not a market standing still and resting on its other attractions.

“The nature of the kinds of students continues to change, however, from long-term degree-seeking to shorter-term certificate and professional development courses.  This is forcing many in the international recruitment sector here to retool and refocus,” he explained.

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