Latest data from the Institute of International Education (IIE) shows that in 2014-2015, the U.S. experienced the fastest year-over-year growth in 35-years in terms of international student numbers. But with 60 percent of America’s international student cohort hailing from just four different countries, is America’s higher education system in desperate need of diversification?

In the past 10 years alone, the total number of international students seeking a U.S. education has swelled by 73 percent, meaning that last year, America played host to 409,887 more foreign students when compared to figures from the previous decade, bringing its total international student population to 974,926.

But figures reveal that the majority of these students (60%) derive from just four countries: China, India, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

For six consecutive years, China has been the biggest sender of overseas students to U.S. universities, meaning students from this region now account for 31.2 percent, or nearly a third, of America’s foreign student population. With 241,517 more Chinese natives enrolled at U.S. institutions in 2016 compared with figures from 2004-2005, 60 percent of the growth America has experienced throughout this period can be attributed to China.

America remains the world’s favourite study abroad destination, but as the Chinese market continues to evolve, the international education sector in the U.S. must strive to diversify its primary sending markets.

“It might be the biggest “What if?” in international education,” notes last year’s ICEF report. “What if Chinese demand for study abroad changes? Or, more drastically still, what if something happens to significantly alter the nature and scale of outbound student mobility in China?”

In its most recent report, the ICEF Monitor notes that a sharp decline in Chinese numbers is becoming increasingly likely, since this year the region has experienced a significant decline in economic growth. International education in Nigeria, Russia and Saudi Arabia, for example, has been affected by the price of oil sinking to just USD$30 a barrel – and concerns over the China’s economy means the region’s education sector could suffer the same fate.

“Even with the dramatic growth of the last decade, international students account for less than five percent of the total head count at the nearly 5000 colleges in the U.S.,” the ICEF report states. “And within such a large field of institutions, that enrolment, particularly in relation to the substantial growth in student numbers over the past decade, is surprisingly concentrated.

 “The 25 U.S. colleges with the largest international enrolments now host just over 21 percent of all foreign students in the U.S.”

In light of this, U.S. higher education professionals must establish an effective strategy to diversify sending markets, and this must take effect over the course of the next 10 years. U.S. universities must step-up recruitment efforts to include more students from emerging markets, or risk losing their long-held reputation as the world’s leading international education provider.

Image via StockPhotoSecrets.

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