This week, AAU joined seven other higher education associations, including ACE, APLU, and IIE, in issuing a statement urging the U.S. government to develop and implement a national strategy to return international student enrollment and exchanges to pre-COVID-19 levels.

The joint statement coincided with the commencement of International Education Week and the release of the Open Doors 2021 Report on International Educational Exchange, which confirms the significant drop in new international student enrollment that we experienced in 2020. A preliminary snapshot shows that, although the total number of international students enrolled increased slightly (by 4%) this fall over the previous year, that number remains well below the pre-pandemic high watermark of more than 1 million in 2015. The associations’ joint statement encourages the federal government to work closely with the higher education community to “enact policies and take coordinated actions” so we can return to similar levels of enrollment.

The statement also articulates how international students enrich our institutions by “bringing a global perspective” that adds to the diversity of our campuses and our communities. In addition, it emphasizes how international students bolster the American economy “by supporting jobs and businesses and by fueling innovation.” According to a new tool developed by NAFSA, international students “contributed $28.4 billion and supported 306,308 jobs to the U.S. economy during the 2020-2021 academic year.” As America recuperates from the pandemic, international students can help support a lasting economic recovery.

As the statement notes, International Education Week offers us an opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary contributions international students and scholars make to our institutions. I hope you will join me in that celebration and in reaffirming our institutions’ commitment to welcoming international students.