90% of colleges plan in-person learning for international students

Study abroad options will increase for U.S. students, but the COVID-19 pandemic is still a factor.
By: | June 15, 2021
Photo courtesy of Gonzaga University

College and university leaders are confident they can deliver in-person learning for the majority of international students in the fall while increasing study abroad opportunities for students from the United States.

A new report from the Institute of International Education (IIE) shows that 90% are preparing for face-to-face instruction of international students. Complexities surrounding COVID-19, restrictions and vaccinations, may still have an impact, particularly for those traveling from the U.S.

“Universities are prepping for a strong recovery in international education enrollment as they emerge from the pandemic,” said Mirka Martel, IIE’s Head of Research, Evaluation and Learning. “We anticipate the recovery to come in phases, tied to vaccinations and travel guidelines. But there is a concerted effort by U.S. higher education institutions to reopen their campuses and encourage all students, including international students, to return to in-person study.”

The survey, Preparing for the Future: The Path Forward for International Education Exchange and fourth in a series, was conducted of more than 400 institutions. It offered a look back at the spring, where about 50% of international students were offered some in-person instruction. This fall, none of the colleges or universities surveyed said they were planning to provide fully virtual instruction.

Study abroad options are becoming less murky. Last year because of global shutdowns, only 3% of leaders expressed confidence that participation would increase. This year, about half of all institutions, with a heavy focus still on safety, believe that those receiving in-person instruction will increase.

The majority of colleges and universities polled (77%) are pouring more funding and marketing efforts into reaching international students, according to the study. And decisions by leaders to reopen campuses along with successes in vaccinations have led to a 43% increase in international student applications for the fall.

Not all outcomes have been equal, however, as percentages mirror those happening across higher education – for example, doctoral university applications are up nearly 60% but community colleges are down by that same percentage.

Where institutions can, and are, making a difference in generating interest are through online recruiting fairs (73%), keeping connections going with international students at other campuses (68%) and through social media outreach efforts (65%). Colleges should continue with strategies that worked during the previous year – by providing housing options, emergency funding and e-signatures on documents for visas and holding virtual events and webinars.