Jan 08, 2018


Latest Trends in International Student Enrollment

Tom Knight describes the latest trends in international student enrollment on college and university campuses across the United States.

In November of 2017 the Institute of International Education (IIE) released its latest data on international students studying in the United States. For a second consecutive year, more than 1 million international students are studying in the United States. Though some pundits and educators feared a “Trump factor” that would lead to widespread abandonment of the US educational system, this did not seem to have happened. However, in the details one does find a three percent decrease in new students entering study. Some of this seems to be from Saudi Arabia and Brazil cutting back on their scholarship programs. According to the IIE there were also “a mix of global and local economic conditions, and in some cases expanded higher education opportunities at home and declining populations.” The top five sending countries remain China, India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Canada. There was also a four percent increase in American students studying abroad which is at an all-time high.

Even though there is still over one million students from other countries studying in the United States, we should take this time to ask how long can these growth trends continue, and whether we are effectively using our time and energy to reach international students (many who are from the 10-40 window). Are we peaking in the number of students who wish to study in the United States? Will there be a long slide down, or will hold these numbers in a plateau?

We should also ask, “How will changing international student demographics affect the way we do international student ministry?” In the 1970s Iran was a leading sender of students, and China was just beginning to allow students to leave the country. In 2001, China was the leading country of origin, but was roughly tied with India in total numbers. In 2017, China sent almost 33 percent of all students to the US. Wars, economic woes, revolutions, and changing demographics and needs of countries can change how many students a country will send.

I hope in 2018 your ministry will prayerfully consider what it is doing to reach international students on your campus. God has brought a huge number of international students to our campuses.

Are we willing to meet that challenge?

Here are a few ideas for preparing to reach international students on your campus:

  • Pray for international students on your campus
  • Find out from the Office of International Students and Scholars the demographics of your campus
  • Plan to train your students on cross-cultural communication
  • Read a book on international student ministry (ISM)
  • If appropriate plan to have staff or student volunteers focused on ISM
  • Encourage American students to care for international students who are here as guests and don’t know our culture and context well
  • Realize that students from different cultures will have different questions about the Gospel
  • Encourage American students to consider study abroad as a way of expanding their awareness of global issues and cultures
  • Take enthusiastic students returning from mission trips and guide them into ISM

What is your ministry’s next step in welcoming the nations to your campus community and sharing with them the hope of Christ?

about the author

Tom Knight

Tom is a collegiate strategist in North Carolina, specializing in international student work. He holds a law degree from Wake Forest and an Mdiv from Princeton. He is the author of No Passport Required: Collegiate Ministry as Global Missions.