US International Student “Market Share” Steadily Eroding

According to the 2014 Open Doors report, released by the Institute of International Education, there are 886,052 international students in the US, which makes it the world’s leading host.  (There are now a total of 1.13 million F & M students studying in the US, according to the 2/15 SEVIS quarterly update.  That includes all levels of education.)  That’s not surprising given the high level of interest in StudyUSA over the years and the sheer size of the US higher education system.

market shareA more useful way of looking at international enrollment trends, however, is to focus on market share.  That picture is not so rosy.  Of the more than 4.5 million students enrolled outside of their home countries in 2012, 75% were studying in developed countries and over half came from Asia, with China (22%), India and S. Korea taking the top three places.  As a 2014 global migration report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) revealed, about 25% of all international students were in the US.  Ten years later, that figure dropped to 16% while all other English-speaking countries, including the UK (12.6%) and Spain increased their share of international students.

According to the OECD, the number of students studying overseas will nearly double by 2025 to 8 million.  Time will tell if and when the US is able to take advantage of this trend.


Here’s a partial list – in no particular order.  Feel free, dear reader, to add to it.

  1. Lack of a comprehensive official US international education policy
  2. State and Commerce are often at odds with each other even though they represent the same government
  3. A sense of resting on one’s laurels – the US built it and they came back in the day but it has been losing market share since 2000
  4. Counterproductive immigration policies, e g., international students can only work on campus, are limited in their post-graduate employment opportunities, both temporary (OPT) and permanent (H1B) and, while possible, the transition from student to green card holder to citizen is not an easy one nor it is officially sanctioned
  5. Regarding the previous points, other countries such as Australia and Canada are much more welcoming, hospitable and realistic vis-à-vis the need (e.g., the graying of their populations) for a certain percentage of international students in certain fields to stay, work and emigrate
  6. Post-9/11 dip

Another factor is cost.  A global report released by HSBC last year based on a survey of more than 4,500 parents in 15 countries, found that Australia is the most expensive place in the world to study, followed by Singapore and the US.

Source: HSBC

Interestingly, the US is currently the world’s leading of Vietnamese students, which says something about preferences and ability to pay.  The US recently “overtook” Australia in this friendly competition for Vietnamese and other international students.  Using Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) statistics for 2013, the latest year for which they’re available, there were 125,000 young Vietnamese studying overseas.  The percentage distribution was as follows:

1)  Australia (26,015):  20.8%
2)  United States (19,591):  15.7%
3) Japan (13,328):  10.7%
4) China (13,000): 10.4%
5)  Singapore (10,000):  8%

As you can see, the top five countries comprise nearly two-thirds of total overseas enrollment for Vietnamese students. The following countries rounded out the top ten:

6)  France (6,700)
7)  Taiwan (6,000)
8)  UK (5,118)
9)  Russia (5,000)
10)  Germany (4,600)

The bottom line, literally and figuratively, is that individual US institutions of higher education, sometimes working cooperatively (e.g., from the same region, a community college and a state university) have to map out their own strategies for different target markets, keeping in mind that one size doesn’t fit all.


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