According to a report by MarketWatch, the number of overseas students coming to the U.S. for grad school declined for the second year in a row. There is much speculation as to what could be causing this trend; however, one reappearing theme ties back to the current political climate here in the United States.
As you likely remember, President Donald Trump initiated a ban on people entering the U.S. from multiple Muslim-majority countries, all of which have a track record of sending students to America for higher education. It’s not difficult to see a near-immediate impact. For example, U.S. graduate school applications from Iran, one of the countries targeted by the travel ban, fell 27% between fall 2017 and fall 2018. The travel ban isn’t the only blamed culprit. President Trump has floated changes to student visas that would reduce the amount of time international students can stay in the U.S.
Naturally, colleges and universities in the U.S. who rely on international students to make up a significant portion of their admissions are concerned. If the U.S. continues to present hurdles that make it unappealing, if not impossible for certain international students to study in the U.S., our colleges and universities are not the only pillars of our community who should be concerned. A decline in international students will have a ripple effect on our economy which will flow into many different industries, including real estate.
How significant is this impact and what industries should be most concerned? Let’s take a closer look at the economic impact of fewer international students coming to the U.S.
International Students Drive Economic Growth
Simply put, international students are pivotal to our economy. First, they often pay the highest tuition rates which is why colleges and universities carefully account for enrolling so many international students to keep their budgets in line. Next, while international students are studying in the U.S., they are spending money on food, clothing, living essentials, as well as renting space to live. Many smaller colleges have built on-campus apartments primarily for the use of their international students. Compared to students that reside with their parents and commute to school, international students have a markedly different economic impact on the school and the surrounding community.
To put a value on this point, the Institute of International Education, an organization that promotes research and international study, estimates that international students contributed $39 billion to the U.S. economy in 2017. In fact, some colleges and universities rely so heavily upon their international students that they have gone as far as taking out an insurance policy to protect themselves against the drop in international enrollment!
A Local Look
The facts and stats reporting the decline in international students coming to the U.S. takes a national look, but what about locally here in Central Pennsylvania? Are we seeing the same trends? One of the area’s leading universities for international enrollment is Penn State Harrisburg. College Factual ranks Penn State Harrisburg as 114th out of a total 1,300 colleges and universities for popularity with international students. And the pool of international students is diverse. At least 50 countries are represented on the Penn State Harrisburg campus with the most being from China, India, and, South Korea.
Interestingly from 2011 to 2016, enrollment of international students has been steadily increasing with 716 international students being enrolled at Penn State Harrisburg in 2016. What this doesn’t account for is the most recent travel ban and change to student visas implemented in 2017-2018 that would not be reflected in this data; however, it is likely to be released soon. With international students making up about 14.2% of the student body at Penn State Harrisburg, should the University also experience the decrease in international enrollment that has been sweeping the nation, it will join the ranks of so many other educational institutions hurting due to this downward trend.
As It Relates to Real Estate
It’s clear how international students impact the colleges and universities in which they are enrolled, but what impact do they really have on real estate and is this decline enough to cause any significant changes to our residential and commercial real estate markets?
International students arriving in the U.S. to study are in immediate need of semi long-term housing, typically at least two years and up to 6+ years depending upon the type of degree they are pursuing. International students can technically choose to purchase real estate on their student visa, but mortgages and lending have a whole host of challenges, making cash to most desirable and feasible option for purchasing home a home. Most commonly, international students decide to rent real estate either from the college or university that they are attending or from a landlord in the community.
Depending upon the demand for off-campus student housing, some real estate investors have created a significant business around owning and renting out real estate to students, including international students. Should there be a severe enough decline in international students, this could cause a decrease in demand for real estate. Property owners will need to make a strategic decision to either ride this wave, with a decreased income for an unknown period of time, or sell off some of their properties if they feel this trend could last a while.
Additionally, should a decline in international students persist, colleges and universities whose campus housing is mostly occupied by international students are not likely to invest in renovating or adding to this real estate until the decline stabilizes and/or reverses.
Key Things to Keep in Mind
All-in-all, this trend in decreasing enrollment from international students is one we must keep an eye on for a variety of reasons. When our colleges and universities are economically impacted, it is highly likely that other businesses and the community as a whole will also feel an impact. Should this provide to be a short-lived trend that passes as the political climate changes, there is the probable outcome that things will return to normal and possibly better than before.
However, we would be shortsighted to not think beyond forces within the U.S. To compound the issue, other counties are also competing for international students and are surely making every effort to market themselves as the most attractive option. It will be a constant battle for the U.S. to retain and grow its international students. Given our country’s reputation for high-quality education, this is not an impossible feat, but we must remain strategic to stay ahead of the curve!
What do you feel are the most critical areas to be impacted by a decline in international students? Beyond colleges and universities what other industries will be most significantly impacted?
Share your ideas by leaving a comment below!