More International Students in US Lead to More US Students Switching to STEM Majors, Research Shows

Universities enrolling more international undergraduate students does not overcome the US students at the average American university but results in more US students choosing bachelor’s degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, a new study from the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) has shown.

According to, the study was conducted by economist Madeline Zavodny and used data by the US Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to assemble information about international and US undergraduate students at 1,234 universities and colleges for the period 1990-2018.

One of the main study findings is that within these 1,234 non-profit higher-education institutions during 1990-2018, the number of international students did not impact at all the number of US students, including men, women, non-Hispanic white, and black students.

“Each additional 10 bachelor’s degrees—across all majors—awarded to international students by a college or university leads to an additional 15 bachelor’s degrees in STEM majors awarded to US students,” the study noted.

Among others, the study pointed out that a decrease in the number of international students will not mean there will be more spots for US students as there are sufficient places at US colleges and universities for both categories.

“Colleges and universities that attract more international students likely are devoting more resources to STEM areas, such as increasing the number of courses and adding fields offered within STEM, hiring more faculty, and providing new lab spaces and buildings. To the extent such changes are occurring, they appear to be attractive to US students as well,” the study finds.

It further adds that there are more chances that international students complete studies in STEM fields than in other study fields, claiming that US students are pursuing more courses with international students.

“The number of international students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the US doubled from 2006 to 2017. The rapid growth in the number of international students in the US came to abrupt halt by 2017, and the number of international students fell over the next year,” the study informs, claiming that due to COVID-19 number of international students in the country dropped and affected the global economy which could cause this number to remain low in the near term as well.

 Other research findings include:

  • International students do not have any impact on the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to black US students, students in general, or by sex.
  • The number of international students receiving bachelor’s degrees also does not have any effect on the number of bachelor’s degrees given to US students in 1,234 universities.
  • The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to white US women increases less if the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to international students in a particular institution increases. However, the study explains that this does not mean that fewer white US women receive bachelor’s degrees because of international students, but that the increase in the number of those receiving their degree from a particular school is smaller as the number of bachelor’s degrees earned by international students increases at that school.
  • US students, including men and women, switch to STEM majors from social sciences majors at schools that experience larger increases in the number of international students.

Zavodny said that findings showing that undergraduate students “do not crowd out US students and even prompt more of them to graduate with a STEM major” are of special importance when it comes to economic issues.

According to her, the finding that international students lead to an increase in the number of US students completing STEM majors is another reason to work on attracting international students in the US.

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