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PHILADELPHIA -- International student enrollments in intensive English programs in the U.S. declined by 20 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to new data from the Institute of International Education released Wednesday at the NAFSA: Association of International Educators conference. The 20 percent decline follows an 18.7 percent decline the year before.

The average number of weeks students study in intensive English programs remained flat at 14.1.

Year Number of Intensive
English Students
Average Number of
Weeks Per Student
2008 57,666 12.8
2009 51,282 14.3
2010 50,676 14.2
2011 72,711 15
2012 110,870 14.1
2013 125,973 14.8
2014 126,016 14.7
2015 133,335 15
2016 108,433 14.1
2017 86,786 14.1

Intensive English programs are the pathway through which many international students enter U.S. higher education, so declines in this sector can herald declines at other academic levels further down the road. IIE found that the proportion of intensive English students who intend to continue their studies in the U.S. after completing their English programs declined from 57.9 percent in 2016 to 50.6 percent in 2017.

The biggest drop in intensive English enrollments has been in the number of students from Saudi Arabia, which fell by 45.2 percent from 2015 to 2016 and by another 46.5 percent from 2016 to 2017. The drops are largely the result of changes the Saudi government has made to its large-scale foreign scholarship program.

China remains the biggest country of origin for students in intensive English programs, but the number of Chinese students has also declined, by 16 percent from 2015 to 2016 and by 7.7 percent from 2016 to 2017.

Other notable changes include a 58.6 percent drop in the number of participants in intensive English programs from Mexico, a shift IIE attributes to changes in a government scholarship program known as Proyecta 100,000 as well as factors relating to "a shifting political climate, growing global competition for IEP students, and increasing language training in country."

Of the top 10 sending countries, only one, Brazil, sent more students to intensive English programs in 2017 compared to 2016.

Top Countries of Origin for Intensive English Students in the U.S.

Country of Origin Number of Intensive
English Students in 2017
Percent Change
From 2016
China 19,756 -7.7%
Japan 12,607 -2.9%
Saudi Arabia 11,059 -46.5%
Brazil 5,650 +11.1%
Taiwan 3,093 -19.2%
Kuwait 2,497 -15.9%
Vietnam 2,187 -13.7%
Colombia 1,917 -1.7%
Mexico  1,780 -58.6%
Turkey 1,630 -30.4%