International students are critical to the competitiveness of American higher education in terms of financial, intercultural, and educational contributions. However, recent data indicates that the U.S institutions enrolled 31,520 fewer international students in Fall 2017 as compared to Fall 2016. At average tuition and fees of US$ 25,000, higher education institutions are likely to lose potential revenue of US$ 788 million for the first year of studies alone. This paper examines the shifting landscape of international enrollment from the lens of three overlapping Waves spread over seven years and takes a deeper dive into implications for American universities. Wave I was shaped by the terrorist attacks in September 2001 and resulted in slower overall growth in international student enrollment of 11% between 1999 and 2006. Wave II has its origins in the global financial crisis which prompted universities to search for self-funded students and experienced overall robust growth of 44 percent in international student enrollment between 2006 and 2013. Finally, Wave III is shaped by the new political order and intensified competition from English-taught programs in Europe and Asia which will slow down the pace of projected growth in international enrollment to 18 percent between 2013 and 2020. In this current Wave of intensified global competition, overall international student enrollment is likely to flatten or decline for most universities. While the reputation and quality of American higher education is admired and emulated around the world, resting on its past laurels will not be sufficient for attracting international students in the Third Wave. This means that universities must get proactive and strategic in reaching, engaging and supporting international students throughout their educational lifecycle. Demand for studying abroad among international students remains robust, however, increasing competition and expectations for value for money will requires proactive and concerted efforts to maintain the global competitiveness of American higher education.
Keywords: International Students, Foreign Students, Enrollment, Student Mobility.