American higher ed still holds global appeal

U.S. institutions work harder to recruit and welcome international students

Attending university stateside is a lifelong goal for many young people and their families around the world. So far, immigration policy shifts and other proposed changes under the Trump Administration aren’t significantly deterring international students from pursuing these plans.

A survey of 112 American colleges and universities shows a 2 percent dip in international student yield for fall 2017, from 26 percent in fall 2016 to the current 24 percent, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE). Domestic student yield also fell 2 percent.

For several U.S. higher ed institutions, the fear of losing the valued international student population is driving a more individualized recruitment approach, says Melanie Gottlieb, deputy director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

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This can mean more interaction with potential students via social media, on-demand informational webinars and Skype sessions between admissions officers and applicants.

Over Skype, students may voice their concerns, and officers are able to prep them for their visa applications and interviews with immigration officials.

“Students who have trouble getting visas often aren’t able to articulate what their immediate plans or long-term goals are,” says Gottlieb. “In reality, these kids are expected to exude a higher level of maturity than their American counterparts.”

Many colleges now offer free airport pick-ups for visiting internationals. Others send personal acceptance letters penned by the president, says Rajika Bhandari, head of research, policy and practice/director at the IIE Center for Academic Mobility Research and Impact.

To encourage attendance among admitted internationals, some schools pair them with alumni from their home countries, so they may glean a better understanding of going to school overseas.

Strengthening a presence overseas is also top-of-mind for many higher ed institutions recruiting outside the U.S.

Wayne State University in Michigan, where internationals make up 8 percent of the student body, is both proactive and aggressive in recruitment tactics, says Ahmad Ezzeddine, associate VP for international programs.

The school partners with Indian, Chinese and other foreign institutions in graduate exchange programs, and faculty visit many countries during the fall and spring to maintain relationships with students who have applied and their families to help sway them to enroll.

International recruiters are being considered, as they may be able to better interpret the role of higher ed for students in their home countries, says Ezzeddine.

Sourcing institutional employees from desired countries may also be more cost-efficient than flying American faculty around the world multiple times per year, as the university currently does.

Many U.S. higher ed institutions are partnering with EducationUSA, a network of international student advising centers in over 170 countries, says Gottlieb. These centers often work in tandem with foreign embassies to prepare students for the visa interview and application process.

Back in the U.S., schools are working to promote the importance of diversity and create a welcome atmosphere for all through multicultural programs and informational sessions on campus.

Wayne State, for example, offers lectures, simulations and collaborative workshops to educate its students and faculty on cross-cultural awareness and acceptance.  

“We must recognize the importance of an international student population, the need of it as part of the learning process,” says Ezzeddine. “We are in a global community, and a diverse student population is necessary from a competitive standpoint.” 

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