Engaging in Open Discussion: Reflections on the EducationUSA Forum

The fourth annual EducationUSA Forum is now behind us, and by all accounts, this year was the most successful ever. (Disclaimer: IIE helps State Department  to organize the event.) Approximately, 600 people from the US higher education community and educational advising came together for the three day event in Washington DC to learn about how best to promote international education and attract a diverse group of international students to their campuses. The Forum has quickly become a major event on the international education circuit, especially for those working in the international recruitment and admissions field. Much was discussed at the Forum, ranging from regional updates, to consular issues, scholarship programs, countries to watch and much more.

The following are a few subthemes that I took away from the event:

1. International Education is an important Foreign Policy Goal of the U.S. Government. In the opening plenary, Secretary Kerry provided an inspiring video presentation, where he spoke eloquently about the impact and power of promoting international exchange and study abroad.  He discussed the power of international education to be a “transformative” experience. This was something also emphasized in Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum’s plenary speech, where she talked about the life changing experience of study abroad and international students at Spelman College including two students (Marian Wright Edelman, founder of Children’s Defense Fund, and Roslyn Pope)  who were leaders of the civil rights movement and also studied abroad.

Watch video of Secretary Kerry’s remarks

2. Sponsored Students Need Extra Services.  There was much talk about the various foreign government scholarship programs, particularly those from the Middle East. It was also discussed that if these students are going to be successful, campuses need to adapt and provide the services needed. This could range from cultural items (such as providing Halal food and places for daily prayers) to understanding that these students often come with a different level of preparation from other students. Also, the sponsoring agencies are an important stakeholder with these programs so campuses need to be equipped to develop  good cooperation with these parties.

3. Moving beyond recruiting international students to graduating international students.  All acknowledged that getting students on to your campus, especially if you don’t worry about diversity (see item 4 below), is not the difficult part. More difficult is finding the student that is the right fit for your institution and will succeed.  Does your school have the right field of study? Is the environment of your school, the right fit for the student or will they be unhappy and end up failing out or transferring?     

4. Diversity, Diversity, Diversity. Diversity can be interpreted in many ways. At the Forum it was mainly brought up in economic and geographic terms. There was a strong desire to learn how best to recruit students from poorer backgrounds through scholarship programs. Also, participants learned about programs of the US government such as Opportunity Grants which are specifically designed to help a student without even the means to pay for testing and other fees so might not even be able to apply for many programs. Attendees were also concerned with the lack of geographic diversity of international students on their campuses. Many schools noted that 30-50% of their international students (and sometimes more) were from China, and while they love having these students on their campuses, there was a need to expand the diversity. Some of the most popular sessions were “Countries to Watch” and “Off the Beaten Path: Recruiting Where Others Aren’t”

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their contributions to the success of the event. Stay tuned for information about the 2014 Forum!