More than 1 million international students on non-immigrant student visas enrolled in U.S. higher education in 2016/2017, a roughly 3 percent increase over the previous year. However, the number of new international students, or those enrolled at a U.S. institution for the first time in fall 2016 decreased by 3 percent—marking the first time there has been a decrease in the 12 years since stats started being tracked.

According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), which has released the Open Doors report annually for the past 12 years, factors in the decline could include a mix of global and local economic conditions, among other reasons. Significantly, large government scholarships from Saudi and Brazil were scaled back, contributing to the largest decline from students in those two countries.

What’s more, IIE conducted a separate survey in September/October 2017 to assess the upcoming 2017/2018 academic year. The nearly 500 institutions that responded reported continued flattening in the number of new enrolled international students—with an average decrease of 7 percent.

Now, those may just be numbers, but they are important given how much international students benefit U.S. colleges, universities and society in general.

In 2016, according to the Department of Commerce, international students brought $39 billion to the United States economy through tuition, room and board and living expenses. Open Doors’ 2017 report indicates that the majority of international students receive their funds from sources outside the U.S., including personal and family, as well as their home country’s government and universities.  

“Their roles on campus as teaching and research assistants support the faculty in many departments, especially in STEM fields, and their diverse perspectives help enrich classroom learning for U.S. students,” reads the Open Doors report.

While the numbers are still increasing overall, and it’s certainly not a mass exodus, there is still some room for concern. Why, for the first time in at least 12 years if not longer, are international students not coming to the United States for higher education?

“Students continue to be attracted to the high quality and diverse opportunities offered by U.S. colleges and universities. But it is critical for U.S. institutions to set strategic goals and be proactive in reaching out to students and families in a wide range of countries in the coming year, and for the United States to keep its academic doors open to students from all over the world,” said IIE President and CEO Allan Goodman.

Location, location, location

According to the report, for the third consecutive year, the largest growth was in the number of students from India. Rather unsurprisingly, China holds the top spot, sending almost double the amount of students to the U.S. than India, but India’s rate of growth outpaced China’s. China and India are now accountable for approximately 50 percent of the total enrollment of international students in the U.S.

Countries following China and India include (in order): South Korea, Saudi Arabia (which was third last year), Canada, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, Mexico and Brazil.

The Open Doors report also examined the number of American students who studied abroad in the 2016/2017 year, reporting an increase of almost 4 percent. Although the total number of 325,339 is at an all-time high, only about 10 percent of U.S. undergraduate students study abroad before graduation.

Interestingly though, American students majoring in STEM fields comprise more than 25 percent of those students who study abroad—a number that has been growing faster than the average for all other fields.