Could the number of foreign students drop — dramatically?

Law schools look to attract international students for a number of reasons.

For one, they help diversify the student population, allowing for American J.D. student to interact with them and learn about other cultures and legal systems.

And secondly … They bring in money.

However, because of the coronavirus, the influx of international students will likely be dampened in the upcoming school year. Typically, foreign student come to the U.S. for either LL.M. or J.D. degrees.

A growing number of schools are offering two-year J.D. degrees designed specifically for foreign students.  And more law schools are offering LL.M. programs for foreign attorneys. It’s estimated that at least half do so.

If the flow of students does decrease, that will disrupt a promising trend for law schools. According to one paper, “Who’s Going to Law School? Trends in Law School Enrollment Since the Great Recession,” foreign student enrollment was on the rise.

“The number of JD students who are foreign nationals increased by 40% from 2011 to 2019 and has nearly tripled over two decades. Foreign students comprised 3.2% of total enrollment in 2019, up from 1.8% in 2011. They are an especially large presence at the top 20 schools, comprising 7.0% of enrollment in 2019.”

When it comes to LL.M. degrees, many foreign students are attracted at the prospect of spending nearly a year studying in the U.S. While schools could switch to online offerings, the question is whether the appeal will be the same. 

Higher education, in general, is in jeopardy because of how the coronavirus may impact foreign student enrollment.

From the Financial Times: “The large market-oriented university systems in the US, UK, Australia and Canada are particularly vulnerable, as they have raised tuition fees and borrowed heavily to invest in things such as sporting facilities and accommodation to attract and house students. That has been underwritten by a belief in continued growth in the number of international students — currently more than 5 million worldwide — who typically pay higher fees than their domestic counterparts.”

The stakes are high. According to the Brookings Institution, considerable revenue is at risk:

“Nationwide, the amount of tuition plus required fees from international students tops $2.5 billion. California has over $400 million at risk; New York over $300 million; Massachusetts over $200 million.

“The high fraction of tuition coming from international students reflects both the fact that there are many international students and the fact that, at least in public universities, international students pay nonresident tuition rates.

“Nonresident tuition rates at the University of California, for example, are two-and-a-half times the rate paid by Californians. What’s more, most schools offer far less financial aid to international students than to domestic students. In that sense, the numbers reported here understate the true impact on net tuition.”