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Fall 2013 Snapshot Survey Finds Strong Growth in International Students

U.S. campuses report on their participation in foreign government scholarship programs; engagement with the 100,000 Strong in the Americas; services for students affected by events in Syria and Egypt

According to a joint survey conducted by eight leading U.S. higher education associations, 72% (274) of member campuses that responded report that the total number of international students enrolled at their institutions increased in fall 2013 compared to the previous year’s enrollment totals. On average, responding institutions saw a growth of approximately 13%, with more growth occurring at the undergraduate level. It should be noted however, that this increase is based on early estimates provided by 380 responding institutions for Fall 2013, and that the sample size is substantially smaller than the close to 3,000 institutions that are covered by the annual Open Doors survey, and therefore does not reflect the complete and final picture for 2013/14 international enrollments. A more comprehensive view will be reported in Open Doors 2014 when it is released in November 2014. In addition to 7% growth for China, responding institutions reported very large growth in enrollments from Iraq (55% increase) and Saudi Arabia (25%). International enrollments from Brazil and Vietnam also grew by 17% and 14%, respectively.

In addition to the 72% reporting increases, 26% reported declines, and 2% (5 institutions) reported that their overall international student enrollments stayed about the same as last year. Looking at new enrollments (students enrolled at a U.S. campus for the first time in fall 2013), 57% of responding institutions reported an increase.  These fall 2013 snapshot survey findings, while not comprehensive, suggest that the numbers of new international students and total international students are likely to continue to grow at a stronger rate of increase than in the prior academic year.

This collaborative initiative by the eight associations was conducted online in October 2013 to provide a timely “snapshot” of what U.S. colleges and universities are experiencing with regard to international student enrollment in the current semester. This fall survey collects data separately from the annual Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange produced by the Institute of International Education in partnership with the U.S. Department of State. Open Doors provides comprehensive statistics and analysis based on detailed data collected throughout the previous year from more than 3,000 U.S. campuses; the international student figures reported in Open Doors 2013 are for academic year 2012/13.

The fall snapshot survey is released at the same time as the Open Doors findings, in an effort by the U.S. higher education community to provide a complementary forward-looking, top-line view of international student enrollment trends contextualized by campus perspectives for the current academic year. In addition to reporting increases or decreases, the survey also gathers contextual information from responding educators on the current international student recruitment efforts on campus; participation in large-scale foreign government sponsored scholarship programs; and support services for international students affected by political and other emergencies.


What continues to drive the growth in enrollments on many U.S. campuses?

Institutions were asked about institutional factors that are driving growth, as well as economic and other factors. Among institutions reporting a growth in new international students, the major reasons for the reported increases appear to be largely related to continued active recruitment efforts (68%), the growing reputation and visibility of U.S. campuses abroad (61%), the growth of the middle class in rapidly developing economies (43%), and an increased number of linkages with institutions in other countries (31%). Additionally, a large number of campuses also noted the availability of scholarships by foreign governments and other types of sponsors as a reason for increased enrollments.

Over 70% of responding campuses had launched new efforts in the past year to maintain or increase their international enrollments. Among these institutions, the steps taken most frequently included: adding new staff or devoting additional staff time to international recruitment (63%), new international programs or collaborations (53%), new funding for international recruitment trips (44%), and engaging third-party recruiters/agents (30%). Additionally, campuses also reported the extensive use of social media, and more purposeful and targeted data-driven marketing efforts.

The institutions that did not take special steps mainly cited a lack of funding or resources, or reported that that their international student enrollment is stable and growing and they are continuing with their existing recruitment strategies.

Almost all institutions (99%) that devoted more resources for international student recruitment trips have focused these efforts on East and South Asia (primarily China and India). But 53% of reporting institutions are also recruiting in Latin America (especially in Brazil), Southeast Asia (22%) and the Middle East (17%). The region that institutions were least likely to recruit in was Africa (7%).

With the increasing presence of Chinese students on U.S. campuses, many respondents reported providing a range of programs and services designed to better integrate the growing number of Chinese students on their campuses and in their communities, and to ensuring English proficiency levels. These efforts ranged from adding more ESL classes, increasing their level of student support services, and assisting Chinese students with academic, social and cultural issues. Many campuses have also begun to provide special training for faculty and staff and have also involved on-campus Chinese faculty as mentors. Despite these efforts, many respondents noted that they continue to struggle with providing adequate English language training to Chinese students, and with trying to diversify their international student body.

Given the emergence of scholarship programs sponsored by foreign governments, survey respondents were asked about their institution’s participation in these types of initiatives. A large proportion (40%) reported hosting students on the Saudi Arabia King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP) which has grown steadily since its inception in 2005. Another 38% reported participating in the Brazil Scientific Undergraduate Mobility Program (which has sent over 3,500 undergraduate students to the U.S. since the program began a year ago), and 14% were participating in scholarship programs supported by the Government of Iraq.

Responding to a question about other scholarship programs, institutions most frequently mentioned those sponsored by Kuwait and Oman, but they also indicated that they have hosted students from other countries—including Vietnam, Botswana, Pakistan and Ecuador—that are also launching  scholarship programs to send their students abroad.

This year the survey also asked respondents about their involvement in the 100,000 Strong in the Americas, a U.S. government initiative designed to increase educational exchange across the Western Hemisphere. Eighteen percent of the responding institutions said they have conducted planning and recruitment trips within Latin America, 16% have engaged in partnership activities with institutions in the region, and 11% have hosted more international students from the region than in prior years. Some other steps taken by campuses include establishing centers focused on Latin American studies, and hiring staff to develop a strategic initiative for the Western Hemisphere.

Regarding international students who were affected by the political turmoil in Syria and Egypt, one  quarter (25%) of the responding institutions reported providing added support to students from these two countries (as well as Libya). Many institutions indicated that they provided direct financial assistance, such as scholarships, tuition waivers or discounts, made short-term loans, provided free or reduced-rate housing and meal tickets, expanded personal and group counseling services, shared information with students about IIE emergency grant programs  and/or participated in the IIE-led Syria consortium. Some institutions also reported making application deadlines flexible for students from these countries and relaxing their requirements of receiving transcripts directly from the home institution/school.

Leaders of the associations commented on the survey findings, noting the continued growth in the number of international students enrolled at U.S. institutions, while also urging campuses, the U.S government, and others to continue working hard to sustain the renewed flows of international students to the U.S. and American students abroad.

Dr. Allan Goodman, President and CEO of the Institute of International Education (IIE), noted that the growing international enrollments reported by US campuses this fall reflect a recognition by national governments  as well as individual families that US higher education prepares students for leadership careers in a wide range of fields. "Countries like Brazil and Saudi Arabia are making substantial investments in sending some of their brightest students abroad for training, just as individual families in China and around the globe are making personal investments to get their kids a world class education in the US, to equip them with the knowledge and cross-cultural skills they will need in whatever career they pursue. America’s youth will need similar international experiences to thrive in the global marketplace."

"U.S. community colleges offer an attractive combination of benefits to international students that cannot be found anywhere else in higher education,” said Dr. Walter G. Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). “We welcome the increased interest among international students in studying at one of our colleges, and the many contributions they bring to our learning communities.”

"The projected growth in international student enrollment in IIE’s 2013 Snapshot Survey is another encouraging sign of U.S. higher education’s global efforts, and reinforces what we found in our own Mapping Internationalization research,” said ACE President Molly Corbett Broad. “Combined with initiatives such as the development of global curricula, study abroad programs and international partnerships, colleges and universities are putting into place practices that will greatly enhance our students’ preparation for the 21st century workforce.”


About the Survey

A total of 380 institutions responded to the survey, reflecting the full range of U.S. higher education.  Among the respondents were 96 U.S. campuses that enroll more than 1,000 international students each. The composition of the respondent pool was as follows: Doctoral/Research institutions (33%), Master’s institutions (32%), Baccalaureate colleges (17%), two-year colleges (13%), and Professional/Specialized institutions (5%). The survey was carried out by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in cooperation with American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), American Council on Education (ACE), Association of American Universities (AAU), Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), and NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

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IIE Experts

IIE experts on international education are available for interviews or speaking engagements.

Dr. Allan E. Goodman
President and CEO

Peggy Blumenthal 
Senior Counselor to the President

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