Revival of international student applications continues

International student applications to study in the United States continue to increase, with 65% of institutions reporting an increase in their international student applications for the 2022-23 academic year across all institutional types, up from 43% one year ago.

This is according to a new report from the Institute of International Education’s Snapshot Survey Series called Spring 2022 Snapshot on International Educational Exchange.

This report, written by Mirka Martel and Julie Baer, highlights the continued return to in-person student mobility to and from the United States and support to current and prospective international students affected by COVID-19 and the Ukraine crisis.

The report offers evidence of continuing revival of international student demand following the sharp fall in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, which, according to the Open Doors 2021 Report on International Educational Exchange, caused a 15% decrease in international student numbers to just over 914,000 in the 2020-21 academic year.

“The total number of international students decreased across all academic levels,” the authors say. “Looking at the numbers more closely, we note that the decrease primarily happened among new international students or students studying at a US college or university for the first time. The total number of new international students decreased by nearly half (46%) in fall 2020.”

“In 2020, over half of the reporting institutions (52%) noted a decrease in application numbers for the 2020-21 academic year. Since then, this trend has turned around,” the report adds.

The report notes that international recruitment continues to be a priority. For the first time, 43% of institutions note in-person recruitment.

Almost all institutions offer in-person study to future international students (96%), with options for online study decreasing and only reserved for those who cannot travel or obtain a visa due to COVID-19.

Over half of US institutions (55%) report that all their international students attended classes in person in spring 2022, compared to just 8% one year ago. An additional 34% note that most of their international students are studying in person.

Institutions continue to communicate with their international students about their health and well-being (89%) and mental health (61%) amid COVID-19 concerns.

Support for students from Ukraine

Meanwhile, US colleges and universities are continuing to recruit prospective students from Ukraine and Russia.

“International educational exchange, and the support that US colleges and universities offer to students who choose to study on their campuses, is universal. Despite the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia, a constant in our findings was that US institutions provided equal support to international students from both places of origin,” the authors say.

Most US colleges and universities (54%) are extending enrolment for prospective Ukrainian students amid possible visa delays.

Some 248 US institutions (44%) report hosting international students from Ukraine in spring 2022. These institutions have supported Ukrainian students through written correspondence (87%), mental health counselling (81%), emergency student funding (59%) and housing (29%).

“As of 2021-22, over 4,800 international students from Russia were studying in the United States, including students who may have publicly disagreed with their government’s actions in Ukraine or may be facing challenges due to the economic sanctions,” the authors say.

“As such, many US colleges and universities have continued to support international students from Russia in the same ways that they have supported international students from Ukraine, particularly by providing increased communications and mental health counselling.”

In total, 307 US institutions (55%) report hosting international students from Russia in spring 2022 and noted similar support to these students: 79% offered written correspondence, and 71% provided mental health counselling.

A small number of institutions (43) report having university partnerships with Russia. Over half of these institutions (56%) have suspended their university partnership amid the crisis.

In-person study abroad rebounds

According to reporting institutions, most have returned or anticipate returning to in-person study abroad in the 2022-2023 academic year, the report says.

“We note a dramatic decline in institutions reporting that all study abroad was cancelled. In summer 2021, 43% of institutions noted study abroad cancellations, whereas less than one percent of institutions anticipated that study abroad would be cancelled in spring 2023,” the authors say.

In summer 2022, 58% of reporting institutions are offering in-person study abroad programmes, and an additional 31% are offering hybrid programmes. The proportion of in-person study abroad programmes will increase to 65% in fall 2022 and 64% in spring 2023, the report says.

Some 83% of institutions note an increase in study abroad numbers in 2022-23 compared to the previous year. This is across all institution types and geographic regions.

Meanwhile, 81% of the responding institutions indicated that students are required to have a COVID-19 vaccine to study abroad, mainly due to vaccine requirements already on campus, requirements of the study abroad providers or in-country partner, or the destination location.

With the return of US colleges and universities offering in-person study abroad, there have been “notable shifts in other modes of study”, the report says.

“One learning from the COVID-19 pandemic may be the expanded offerings of online global learning opportunities across institutions. As of summer 2023, nearly one-third of colleges and universities indicated that they plan to offer online global learning, and this remains consistent as institutions plan for future semesters,” the authors say.

However, they said it is notable that in 2022-23 less than 2% of institutions anticipate offering online global learning programmes only.

“This indicates that many institutions are not viewing online virtual exchanges as a replacement for traditional in-person study abroad opportunities but rather an additional opportunity for students to gain global insights and perspectives.”

IIE administered the Spring 2022 Snapshot Survey to US higher education institutions from 14 to 29 April 2022. The survey was sent to the IIENetwork (a community of more than 1,300 higher education institutions and other organisations in the United States and abroad) and respondents of the Open Doors 2021 Report on International Educational Exchange, with a total of 559 institutions completing the survey.

Most of these US colleges and universities (95%) also completed the most recent Open Doors surveys. The respondent institutions represent 49% of all international students at US institutions in 2020-21 and US study abroad students in 2019-20.