Mexico’s International Students: Down, But Not Out

Paul Schulmann, Research & Advisory Services, WES

The number of Mexican residents seeking an evaluation of their academic credentials through World Education Services rose 24.7 percent between 2010 and 2012, indicating a significant uptick in interest among Mexicans for U.S. educational opportunities after a period of recent decline in the wake of the global financial crisis. This is also evidenced in the most recent data from the Institute of International Education, which show an increase of 4.8 percent in the number of international students from Mexico coming to the United States between academic years 2009/2010 [1] and 2011/2012 [2].

Enrollment Trends of Mexican International Students in the U.S.* [3]

Since the enactment of NAFTA in 1994, Mexico’s economy has been inexorably intertwined with that of its northern neighbor. The business cycles of the American economy have an enormous impact on the economy of Mexico, and in turn its society, affecting everything from net migration to the cost of living.  Education is no exception, and Mexico is currently the 9th [4] largest source of international students in the United States.

However, the recent economic recession disproportionately affected Mexican outbound student mobility to the United States. This decline was less evident in other countries receiving large numbers of Mexican students, suggesting that high tuition fees in the U.S. served as a significant deterrent during the worst of the recession. Over the same period (2008-2010 [5]) Spain, France, Germany, and the UK saw slight increases in Mexican enrollments.

Over the last decade, international students from Mexico have studied predominantly at the undergraduate level in the United States, with 54 percent [4] of the Mexican student body in the 2011/2012 academic year studying for a first degree. They also gravitate towards business and engineering programs, which account for almost 40 percent [6] of Mexican international students. For U.S higher education institutions with strong business or engineering programs that are looking to increase international enrollments, Mexico would be a good place to focus in the coming years.

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