Beyond Borders: The New Face of International Students in the US

A surge in international student enrollment is revitalizing US higher education. After a pandemic slump, international student numbers soared in 2023, marking the fastest growth in four decades. This translates to over one million students from abroad studying at American campuses. But the story goes beyond just numbers. Where students are coming from is changing. New markets are emerging, and others are declining. To understand the shifting landscape, we will look at recent trends. 

The China-India Enrollment Flip: A New Era for US Universities 

China has dominated as the major source of international enrollments for the past decade. In 2022-23, almost 290k students from China enrolled at US institutions, accounting for 27 percent of all international enrollments. But China’s dominance is waning, and a new superpower is emerging: India.

Last year, 269k students from India enrolled at US institutions, accounting for 25 percent of all international students in the US. More importantly, the number of students from India is growing – fast. The number of Indian students in the US has increased 37 percent since 2017-18, and US colleges and universities are taking notice. Consider this excerpt from a US News & World Report article: 

“Adarsh Khandelwal, a New Delhi-based college counselor and admissions coach, pointed to a commitment by U.S. colleges and universities to ensuring international students feel at home. ‘The proactive response to queries, hosting workshops and strong representation in India contributes to the U.S. being a clear leader.’”

In stark contrast, the number of Chinese students coming to the US, though still the largest segment by overall market share, dropped by 20 percent during this same time period. That equates to almost 74,000 fewer students. Interestingly, other Asian countries are also seeing declines in the number of students attending US institutions, including South Korea (down 20 percent), Vietnam (down 10 percent), Taiwan (down 3 percent), and Japan (down 14 percent). 

International Students by Country of Origin - 2022/23

Beyond the Usual Suspects: Unveiling New Frontiers in International Student Recruitment

As some markets decline, other new markets for international students are emerging, and they may not be what you expect. The number of students from Bangladesh increased by over 6,000 over the past five years. Nigeria is sending more students to the US as well: 17,640 students from Nigeria came to the US to study in 2022-23, an increase of almost 5,000 students from five years ago. The number of students from Ghana more than doubled, from 3,213 to 6,468. 

International Students Enrolled in US Institutions* (Fastest-Growing Countries of Origin by Unit Change in Enrollment 2017/18 to 2022/23)

Tracking International Student Demand

Recruiting international students is a complex, time-consuming, and sometimes expensive undertaking. In addition to tracking enrollment, it can be helpful to understand prospective student program search trends by country and city. Pageviews show what prospective students are searching for and where they come from. This data can help colleges and universities refine and focus recruiting strategies to make the most of limited budgets. 

Across all programs and award levels, pageview volumes by prospective students’ country of origin mirror the recent enrollment trends discussed above in some but not all cases (Note: Pageview data is not available from China and is not included in the data below). 

International Student Pageviews - All Programs, Al Award Levels (By Country of Origin, January, 2024)

Prospective students in India generated the greatest number of pageviews year-to-date in 2024, followed by Bangladesh, Nigeria, Nepal, and Pakistan. Interestingly, Nepal had the greatest year-over-year growth in pageview volumes, up 259 percent. Pageviews from Brazil increased 194 percent. These countries may not be many institutions’ radar, but maybe they should be.

Dhaka to Hyderabad: Uncovering Hidden Gems in Student Demand

Country of origin is only part of the story. Drilling down to student demand at the city level can help colleges and universities better target recruiting activities. Interestingly, the city that generated the highest number of pageviews from prospective students in 2024 was Dhaka in Bangladesh. The city of Kathmandu in Nepal was second, Accra in Ghana was third, Lagos in Nigeria was fourth, and Hyderabad in India was fifth. 

International student demand is multifaceted and complex. The good news is that the US is once again attracting a growing number of international students. But as with all things in higher education, competition for students is increasing. Using data about demand trends can help institutions focus recruiting efforts for maximum returns. 

Elaine Rowles


Elaine works with Gray’s education clients on strategic planning projects, program portfolio evaluations, program feasibility studies, price benchmarking, and research-intensive custom project work. She has performed in-depth analyses of existing programs and institutions, as well as assessed demand and employment opportunities for new and emerging programs.

About Gray DI

Gray DI provides data, software and facilitated processes that power higher-education decisions. Our data and AI insights inform program choices, optimize finances, and fuel growth in a challenging market – one data-informed decision at a time.

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