For generations, higher education was considered to be second to none in the United States. Thanks to this reputation, high-performing students from around the world went out of their way to apply to U.S. Colleges. In 2019, however, admissions offices began to notice a disturbing trend — foreign students aren’t applying in the same numbers that they used to.
Why aren’t foreign students enrolling in US colleges? There are a number of reasons, but the bottom line is that the US college industry is losing a significant amount of money. And that means that the college industry has to either downsize significantly, or it has to start getting more value out of the existing US college students.
$11.8 Billion and 65,000 Jobs Lost
Foremost, many international college students feel as though it may not be safe within the United States. Gun violence has increased in the US, and there’s a perception that mass shootings are happening constantly — even though they remain rare. Much of this has to do with the nature of news coverage in America, which makes it appear as though massacres are occurring continuously.
College students are also finding it more difficult to procure visas, and are concerned that the current administration may not be favorable to them. Thus, they don’t try to apply for U.S. schools, because they don’t think they will be accepted, or because they feel as though they won’t be welcomed as an “immigrant.”
Foreign students make up a big portion of the college system, and they pay substantially more than in-state U.S. students. Because of this, the decline in foreign students is hitting the U.S. college industry particularly hard. Nearly $12 billion in value has been lost, and that also equates to 65,000 jobs. Colleges are having to pull back on their offerings, which ultimately impacts the quality of education for US students.
Low Enrollment Killing an Industry
Lower enrollment naturally leads to shrinking colleges. And colleges are already in a bit of an indeterminate state. College costs have been rising at a rate eight times greater than wages, and the less money is made within the college system, the more they need to charge students to maintain their profits.
Despite this, more people are still going to college even though it costs more. This is because the work market is so competitive that people feel as though they need to go to college. And that means that more people are signing up for larger and larger debts, without considering whether they are going to be able to pay those debts.
Altogether, this creates a system that’s inherently unstable and could fall down. People over-leveraging themselves with debt are going to be unable to pay that debt, and will pull back on things like consumer spending and home purchasing. Since people are allowed to over-leverage themselves significantly under the current system, the system is pushing people towards more debt overall.
Bringing Foreign Students Back to America
Bringing foreign students back may not be the answer. Since it’s something the colleges have no control over, they have limited strategies in this arena. But more people are being encouraged to go into things such as trade programs. Countries such as Australia have incredibly robust trade programs and have managed them successfully. Trade work tends to pay as much as college educated work at a fraction of the price.
While millennials and now the upcoming Generation Z have been hesitant to adopt trades thus far, it may become the most realistic option to support the American economy. A heavier emphasis on trade schools will reduce debt for the country, as well as put in more educated, talented trades people into the general workforce and population.
What does the U.S. college industry need to do to start improving its appeal to foreign students? Unfortunately, this is an issue that the college industry really can’t tackle on its own. Foreign students are no longer interested in attending American schools for a number of reasons that don’t really have to do with the college industry itself.
And the future of the U.S. college industry remains uncertain, as there are pushes to subsidize education for students, or even to dissolve student loans — which could have a tremendous impact. Altogether, students may see college tuition rising sharply in the future.