Global Connections: Competition for international students

International student enrollment in the U.S. is on the decline. Community colleges are being hit harder than other U.S. higher education sectors — a 9.4 percent drop in 2017 and a projected 19.3 percent drop in 2018, according to reports.

While some see a correlation to the current social and political climate, IIE Project Atlas suggests it may be more directly related to the increase in global competition for international students. Worldwide, the total number of students studying outside their home country has more than doubled since 2001. However, the U.S. global market share of international students is continuing to decrease, while the shares for China, Australia, Canada and others continue to rise.

The decline is of huge concern to community colleges, which often turn to international student recruitment as an essential way to internationalize their campuses. In addition, the economic health of their local communities may likely be affected. In 2014, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) reported that international students at community colleges contributed $2.6 billion to the national economy.

Resource for recruiting

In response, community colleges are focusing and intensifying their international student recruitment efforts. Below are some good resources.

IIE Open Doors Community College Data Resource is a strong starting point for more focused international student recruitment. The data resource identifies countries where the U.S. market share is strong and favorable to U.S. community colleges, as well as trends indicating declining or emerging markets.

The more detailed Open Doors data can also help colleges better focus their in-country promotion materials. Open Doors is unique in that its value depends wholly upon the input from community colleges themselves. AACC partners each year with IIE to educate community colleges about its value and to encourage completion of the Open Doors surveys. (The annual Open Doors online surveys are currently available. The deadline for submission is March 1.)

EducationUSA is another invaluable resource to maximize international recruitment efforts. As part of the U.S. Department of State, it provides trustworthy in-country support through a network of advising centers in 170 countries. For prospective students, many EducationUSA services are free. For colleges, free or low-cost services include recruitment fairs, webinars, in-country market analysis and a digital library that houses colleges’ promotional videos. The annual EducationUSA forum and EducationUSA Adviser Training Institutes bring advisers to the U.S. to share their in-country expertise, as well as gain additional knowledge about U.S. higher education institutions.

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The U.S. Commercial Service, within the U.S. Department of Commerce, is also a valuable federal resource for international student recruitment. Many of its services are fee-based. However, the Education Top Markets Report is free and identifies viable and emerging international student recruitment markets. Unlike EducationUSA, Commercial Service education trade missions and webinars/video chats often facilitate relationships with agents. Its Gold Key Service organizes pre-screened in-country appointments. (For best practices in the use of agents, AACC recommends NACAC’s A Guide to International Student Recruitment Agencies for Schools, Colleges and Universities.)

Face-to-face and social media

In 2017, many colleges participated in the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign — uploading videos to social media that promote the welcoming atmosphere for international students on their campuses.

For many, the face-to-face approach has become more essential. Statewide consortia for international student recruitment have grown substantially and often consist of community colleges, as well as four-year colleges and universities. Although the primary benefit of consortia is reduced costs, community colleges also benefit from traveling with articulation partners and, increasingly, guaranteed admission agreement partners.

About the Author

Wayne Wheeler
is director of international programs and services at the American Association of Community Colleges.
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