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Empty university library. Photo: JHU Sheridan Libraries / Gado / Getty

In a potential threat to future U.S. innovation, new international enrollment at U.S. colleges is down for the first time in more than a decade, according to a new report. It is the first hard sign that the Trump administration's rhetoric may be frightening away some of the world's best and brightest who traditionally have been drawn to settle and work in the U.S.

Why it matters: "The Chinese whiz kid, if he can find a way to America, he'll come here. If you're good, you can make a lot of money," Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, tells Axios. "That whole set of incentives has always been tied to the immigrant stream, and we're severing that connection."

By the numbers: The findings are from the Institute of International Education's annual Open Doors report and its smaller joint "snapshot" report on international enrollment. It found that new international student enrollment dropped by 3.3% for the 2016-2017 academic year, and by a far higher 6.9% in the Fall 2017 semester. Peggy Blumenthal, IIE's Senior Counselor to the President, told Axios that it was the first time the organization had seen a drop in the 12 years it had been collecting this data.

"We don't grow talent in America," Carnevale said. "We go out and harvest talent from the rest of the world. We're basically taking ourselves out of the game." He said that global politics are accentuating the trend. ""Opportunity for talented STEM workers is increasing in the rest of the world — the two together: the rise of the authoritarian personality here and the increasing prospects for people in their own countries as the whole world turns to capitalism."

Worth noting: Blumenthal said the trend is affecting big-name schools much less than the average, especially on the coasts. The effect was much more pronounced in the Midwest and Texas, she said, especially at schools without Ph.D. programs, and at community colleges. She said, "It's happening state-by-state and institution-by-institution."

Foreign students already in the U.S. are worried: After foreign students graduate, they can stay in the U.S. for a year under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, and up to three years for STEM fields. A lot of OPT students hope to parlay more time in the U.S. into a highly skilled H1-B visa, and their numbers have jumped by double digits each of the last five years, with year-over-year increases of 19.1% last year and 22.6% in 2015.

  • What worries foreign grads is that OPT exists under an extension granted in an executive order by Barack Obama. President Trump has not mentioned OPT, but he could unilaterally wipe it off the books as part an immigration reform package. The Urban Institute's Daniel Kuehn tells Axios, "Clamping down on OPT would restrict the smooth flow of students from American schools to American companies. … It's something that could be very disruptive, and that would be a way to throw a monkey wrench into navigating U.S. immigration."

Go deeper

Rep. Lamborn may have misused official resources, ethics panel alleges

Rep. Doug Lamborn departs from a news conference held by the House Republican Israel Caucus on May 19, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Congressional ethics investigators said Monday there is "substantial reason" to believe that Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) misused official resources and solicited or accepted improper gifts from subordinates.

Driving the news: Lamborn's aides told investigators they were often asked to run personal errands for his wife, Jeanie Lamborn, and were at one point tasked with helping his son apply for a federal position, according to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). Lamborn strongly denies the allegations.

Biden calls Fox News reporter a "stupid son of a b---h" on hot mic

President Biden blasted Fox News' Peter Doocy on Monday after the reporter asked if the nation's soaring inflation is a political liability, saying, "what a stupid son of a b----h."

Driving the news: The Biden administration has faced rising inflation rates over recent months, which it has labeled as "transitory."

Hope King, author of Closer
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Investors reset their compass

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

The endpoints of a stimulus-fueled market are being defined.

Why it matters: Conditions that drove excess pricing in riskier assets are steadily being removed, and big swings in the market like those seen today are inevitable as investors try to adjust to the new landscape.