Statement by ACE President Ted Mitchell on the Institute of International Education’s 2020 Fall International Enrollment Survey
November 16, 2020

“The Institute of International Education’s finding of such a steep decline in the number of international students attending U.S. colleges and universities this fall is staggering but, unfortunately, not surprising. Well before the pandemic struck, a climate of harsh rhetoric on immigration and concrete actions taken by the Trump administration, such as the travel ban and slower visa processing times, helped fuel the perception that this country is no longer a welcoming place for study and research for outstanding students and scholars from across the globe.

The reality is that the pandemic was going to make it more difficult for international students to come to the United States. We are in the midst of a global health crisis and the resulting economic fallout that has left millions of Americans struggling financially and resulted in an existential crisis for colleges and universities. But continuing to erect new barriers to the ability of international students to study at U.S. institutions greatly exacerbated the problem.

The pandemic has underscored the interconnectedness of our world and the need for higher education to equip graduates with the skills and mindset required to tackle global challenges. International students play a critical role in creating campus environments that facilitate global learning for all students—domestic and international alike. The roughly 1 million international students who attend U.S. colleges and universities annually contribute mightily to our nation’s intellectual and cultural vibrancy. But the overall national economic impact generated by international students declined in 2019-20 to $38.7 billion, $1.8 billion less than the year before, according to additional figures released today by NAFSA: Association of International Educators. NAFSA notes this is the first time the dollar amount has decreased since it began making these calculations more than 20 years ago. The number of jobs international students support also dropped, NAFSA says, to roughly 416,000 from 450,000.

The last thing we needed during this time of economic crisis for higher education and the larger U.S. economy was for the federal government to take actions to block international students from enrolling in our institutions. Many countries are trying to take advantage of this situation and attract international students to their universities. We urge President-elect Biden and the new Congress to move quickly to ensure that the United States preserves its status as the destination of choice for the world’s most talented international scholars and students.”​

Media Contact
Audrey Hamilton
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​Fall International Enrollments Snapshot Reports

New report for 2020 along with archives since 2005 from the Institute of International Education