Challenges in Attracting International Students to the US

From GAO Report Released on June 2007

A report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on June 29th 2007 has raised several issues regarding the current Immigration Policy of the U.S. Government and how it is affecting the country’s foreign education program and competitiveness.

The report is a summary of a GAO forum held on September 2006 with leaders from the field of academy, business, and government to discuss international-student enrollments in American universities.

Majority of participants in the forum indicated that it’s high time for the United States to develop a nation-wide system for recruitment and also change its Immigration system and policies to make it easier for foreign students to secure and renew visas .

The GAO report revealed a few mixed facts regarding foreign students in US.  For instance, the good news is that international students have earned at least a-third of all U.S. degrees at both the master’s and doctoral levels in several science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. On the other hand, recently there has been a definite drop in international student enrollment in U.S. colleges and universities. The report indicated the cause to be the stricter immigration policies adopted post September 11, 2001, which has made it harder for international students to secure visas.

The GAO report identified some issues that the participants felt may adversely affect the U.S.’s ability to continue attracting the world’s most talented international students:

Increasing Global Competition

The report states that the global higher education landscape is changing and providing more alternatives for foreign students. More and more European countries are now expanding their distance learning opportunities as well as opening their doors to foreign students. Many universities are even sending their representatives to other countries to attract students.

Additionally, to beat the competition, even U.S. universities are now establishing branches or partnerships with international institutions and thereby making it unnecessary for students to leave home to receive a U.S. education.

• High Cost of Education

Another negative is the cost of an U.S. degree. According to 2003-2004 annual average tuition at public U.S. colleges and universities was $4,587, second only to Australia at $5,289) and more than 2.5 times higher than Europe’s system with the highest tuition fees, that of the United Kingdom. In terms of private higher education providers, U.S. institutions ranked the highest at more than $17,000 per year followed by Australia ($13,420), Italy ($3,992), and Portugal ($3,803).

Moreover, the cost of study at U.S. colleges and universities are rising. According to the report the average costs for private education have risen from $13,237 in 1990 to $26,489 in 2004. In the 4-year public institutions; the change between 1990 and 2004 fees was approximately 118 percent compared to a 100 percent increase at 4-year privates and an 83 percent increase at 2-year institutions.

With institutions across the globe offering world class education at lower prices, the report indicates U.S. might lose out to its competitors for this reason.

• Visa Policies and Procedures

Current U.S. visa policies and procedures are so strict that many international students simply cannot secure a visa even if they have gained admission to a university or college. While making several suggestions regarding how to improve the situation, including the need to develop recruitment strategies and overhaul immigration policy, the GAO report has suggested that U.S. must maintain an appropriate balance between protecting national security interests and ensuring long-term competitiveness.

The report, GAO-07-1047T is available at