The number of foreign students attending Nevada colleges and universities fell by 7.7 percent in 2002-03, reflecting a national slowdown, a new study shows.
Nevada ranks 37th in the nation with 2,702 foreign students, down from the previous year's 2,927.
The number of international students dropped by 4.8 percent to 785 at the University of Nevada, Reno and decreased by 3 percent to 1,162 at UNLV.
Nationwide, foreign enrollment increased by only 0.6 percent last year, the smallest increase in in eight years, the Institute of International Education based in Washington, D.C. reported.
In each of the two previous academic years, foreign enrollment had increased by 6.4 percent.
Institute officials said it's just the latest piece of evidence that international students are shying away from the United States because of tough immigration rules imposed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Foreign students contributed $61 million to Nevada's economy in 2002-03, according to the study.
But the benefits of having foreign students in the county extend beyond the monetary impact, said Susan Bender, director of UNR's International Students and Scholars Office.
Foreign students bring diversity and a global view to campuses, and return to their countries to share a deeper understanding of America, Bender said.
"If you educate people who become world leaders, that's a wonderful thing," she told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "I understand the need for national security and the fear of a terrorist attack, but how do you balance that and still promote a positive world view of the United States?"
In January, the federal government required all universities and colleges to report on the status of foreign students, including name or address changes and failure to arrive on campus.
As the four Nevada campuses with the most foreign students, UNR, UNLV, Truckee Meadows and the Community College of Southern Nevada paid a total of about $72,000 to track students this year.
The government now wants to charge foreign students a one-time fee of $100 to help cover the cost of the tracking program.
"I don't know if it will break the camel's back, but it won't help," said Dave Harbeck, Truckee Meadows' director of admissions.