The 2024 Conference Season: It’s All International

The weather is warmer, colleges and universities have raced from classes to Spring Break to graduation, and in the international education world, that means it is conference season!

Whether you visited Washington, D.C., for the AIEA Annual Conference, Boston for the Forum on Education Abroad, or steamy New Orleans for NAFSA this year, key topics related to international educational mobility are at the top of the agenda. With continued increases in international student numbers at U.S. colleges and universities and a concerted effort to increase study abroad to pre-pandemic totals, experts in the field have several reasons to put on those lanyards and run to the exhibit hall.

Those who regularly attend conferences know that just as much knowledge is gained in the halls between panel sessions. As I look to another season of the Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange this year, our 75th — several topics resonated and caught my eye.

Here are the three questions I’ll be asking my colleagues:

  1. What is the profile of the international student in 2024 and beyond?

    From Open Doors, we know that the international student population is growing in the United States, as in 2022/23, it again reached over one million students. The top three places of origin continue to be China, India, and South Korea, but the profile of international students is shifting. First, there is the increase of international students from India, which is expected to continue and may outpace China soon.

    Second, there are a number of emerging international student markets, including Nigeria, Colombia, Bangladesh, and others, that are receiving increased U.S. university recruitment attention. The profile of an international student — and what they need to be successful on campuses and in the United States — will continue to shift. How will colleges and universities prepare for this shift, and what student services will emerge as necessary to adjust to new profiles of students?
  2. Can the U.S. grow its international student numbers, and how?

    In March, Allan Goodman and I released our Outlook 2030 with a simple question: what would it take to double U.S. international student enrollment to two million by 2030? Since then, we have engaged in substantive discussions with international organizations and colleges and universities on strategies to address barriers to entry, promote effective recruitment, and discuss diversification of the international student body. With support from the U.S. for Success Coalition and others, there are increasing signs that the U.S. is interested in sustaining its international student growth. Still, it will take a combination of stakeholders across the government and higher education to make this a reality. Ask your colleagues, what would it take?
  3. What could be the fallout of other international student host markets and their more restrictive policies?

    Recent legislation and policy changes in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, have raised serious concerns about the possibilities of expanding global mobility. When I began working with the Open Doors Report about five years ago, our analyses focused on whether the U.S. could keep up with other host destinations and the favorable policies they were offering.

    Now, some of these same markets are pulling back policies, whether through overcorrection or political realignment. A relevant question here is what the fallout, or effect, of these policies will be on the U.S. international student market. While the U.S. continues to have the most capacity to host international students — they comprise just 6 percent of overall student enrollment —  considerations around the cost of studying in the U.S. and post-study work opportunities remain, areas that were seen as more attractive for these other hosts.

It would be overly optimistic to assume that students who previously had their eyes set on Canada or the United Kingdom will automatically set their sights on the United States. At the same time, there is an opportunity for U.S. colleges and universities to continue their recruitment practices with their best asset: the quality of the U.S. higher education experience and the intercultural value that studying in the United States brings to globally-minded students.

As I pick up my morning snack at AIEA, the Forum, or NAFSA, these topics will be on my mind, and I look forward to learning alongside my colleagues.

Dr. Mirka Martel

Director of Research, Learning, and Evaluation