Right now, China and Saudi Arabia are largely responsible for the increase of international enrollments in American education. According to the latest Open Doors report, China is the number one country for sending students over to study in the USA. The Chinese students that come to America in particular help drive up the international enrollments at colleges across America. As a matter of fact, for the first time in 11 years there are more international undergrads than there are graduate students in the US.
Aside from China and Saudi Arabia, numbers from other countries that American colleges rely most on for international students have either declined or saw marginal growth. That includes but is not limited to Japan, South Korea, and India. For example, 6 years ago, China and India each sent about 100,000 students to the US. Today, the number of Chinese students studying in America has nearly doubled, while India’s numbers have dropped by 3,000.
So, why have numbers been decreasing in other countries? Demographic changes and economic conditions are behind some countries’ weak showings. Both Japan and South Korea, for example, tend to send undergraduate students, who are more sensitive to economic conditions because families have to pay the full cost of their child’s education. Both countries also have aging populations. India on the other hand, sends many students at the graduate level. Many Indian students pursue master’s degrees and pay for their education out of their own pockets. Their numbers have flat-lined, however, because the rupee is weak and the economy of India is sluggish right now. Additionally, many Indian students hope to find work in the country where they study. Because America itself has a struggling economy, studying in the USA has lost some of its appeal. China, on the other hand, is able to send more students to America because many Chinese families are responsible for only one child, and therefore have more resources to pay for an American degree. In the case of Saudi Arabia, according to Open Doors, the number of Saudi students enrolled at American colleges jumped 50 percent between 2010 and 2011. Many of those students are in the US on a scholarship program started by King Abdullah in 2005. “The impact has been so profound that almost every family in Saudi Arabia has one or more scholarship students on the program”, says Mody Alkhalaf, assistant attaché for cultural and social affairs at Saudi Arabia’s cultural mission.
Many universities and colleges are altering and revamping their international programs to appeal to foreign students. Jing Luan, vice chancellor for educational services and planning for the San Mateo County Community College District, says that careful planning has led to significant enrollment increases at his three colleges. They have translated the international recruitment page of their website into ten other languages, improved services and clubs for international students and crafted a marketing plan to make community college more attractive as a pathway to a four-year institution. These changes have led international enrollments to double in just one year. Public institutions have also jumped on the bandwagon and have incorporated changes to appeal to international students. Many state colleges say that foreign students provide an international perspective to their undergraduate learning. In order to attract more students, colleges have added programs with English-language classes, academic advising and a vast majority of extracurricular activities to appeal to international students.
And it’s not only the universities in America that want international students to come and study at their institutions; the Obama administration and the Departments of State and Commerce have also been aggressive in encouraging more international students to study in the United States. This year, President Obama pledged to increase the number of students from Latin America and the Caribbean to 100,000, up from 64,000. Additionally, his administration has also supported stronger education ties to Indonesia, India, and China.
As far as predicting what the future holds, both World Education services, through its evaluation service, and the College Board, through the SAT, can usually determine what the demand for US degrees will look like in future years. So far, both see China as a sustainable market for the short-term (It is not possible to predict long-term). Clay Hensley, director of international strategy and relationships at the College Board, says, “The value of speaking English, the value of making connections in the U.S., and the fact that the Chinese economy is so robust, it’s created the perfect storm.”
However, many colleges feel as if they are reaching a saturation point with China and are looking to diversify. Fordham University, for example, has begun to lay out the groundwork in countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, and parts of Latin America. “We want a balance of students from around the world, for both economic reasons and cultural reasons,” says Monica Esser, the associate director for international student admissions.
Looking ahead, signs point to continued growth in international enrollment. But many believe that the United States can do much more to attract foreign students and that growth will continue to be modest until the country throws its full support behind an ambitious plan to recruit international students from across the globe.