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The role and needs of international students in American higher education

Starts a conversation here that higher education innovators must keep in mind: the importance of international students and their needs.

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During the 2015-16 academic year, the United States had more than one million international students in the country for the first time ever (Institute of International Education, 2016). Last year, these students contributed 32.8 billion dollars to the economy and created or supported 400,812 jobs nationwide (NAFSA International Student Economic Value Tool, n.d.). International students, who are ineligible for federal financial aid and may also be ineligible for some other forms of scholarships or grants, provide a key revenue stream to universities, especially public schools that are able to charge rates higher than the in-state tuition that they may charge a majority of their students. According to one study, the top three reasons international students study abroad are generally the higher quality of education offered in the host country, career advancement, and the opportunity to live abroad, however for students studying in the United States, the main focus is on their career advancement (Morgan, 2010). International students largely major in STEM fields (which made up 44% of the student population in one recent year), which currently generally allow them an extended, 36-month work period (known as OPT) following their graduation, however the specific STEM fields differ. Another significant chunk of students focuses their studies on business and management (Zong and Batalova, 2016). Additionally intensive English programs remain prominent and schools have developed their own programs or participate in various pathway programs with external providers, which have come under increased regulatory scrutiny recently.

Some of the challenges that international students face in the US are the fact that it may leave a student less prepared for a particular career track back home due to the liberal arts nature of the higher education system, the fact that study in certain fields may not be equivalent to the subject in the home country, and the tuition cost that largely limits an American university education to those who would only be considered part of the highest class in their home country (McKenna, 2015; Stahl, 2011). Ultimately, this seems to demonstrate that an American education may not be attainable or even desirable to international students despite the potential benefits it could provide.


Institute of International Education. (2016). International student enrollment trends, 1948/49-2015/16. Retrieved November 18, 2016, from

McKenna, L. (2015, November 18). The globalization of America’s colleges. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Morgan, J. (2010, September 30). What motivates international students? Retrieved November 19, 2016, from

NAFSA international student economic value tool. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2016, from

Stahl, J. (2011, May 17). Don’t study in the US: Part 2, a deeper look at the pros and cons. Retrieved from

Zong, J., & Batalova, J. (2016, May 11). International students in the United States. Retrieved November 19, 2016, from

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Tell us about your work experience:

I am an MPA/Master of Arts in International Education Management candidate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Prior to attending MIIS, I worked in international higher education recruiting in Israel, taught at an elementary school in Milwaukee, and served as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in the Czech Republic.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

What can we do to further engage international students within our nation's institutions of education? What can we do to create programs that are more responsive to the needs of international students? What can we do to further internationalize higher education institutions? How can we maintain resilient programs for international students given the impact of politics on international education and the election of a new administration that does not yet have a clear policy on immigration?

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Thank you for your post, Harrison! It is great to see you in the challenge.

International students should not be overlooked. As career advancement is mentioned as a reason for choosing to study in the US, I wonder how many of the companies in China and India view different US degrees. Also, many of these companies are international, especially among the ‘best companies to work for e.g. IBM, Google, Marriott etc. (I chose China and India because they account for the biggest group of foreign students in the US.)

The OpenDoors 2016 report is interesting -

“The growth in international STEM students is likely connected to the 25 percent increase in students from India, more than three quarters of who study in these fields.”

Chinese graduate students have more options at home now. “China has pumped enormous resources into its graduate education capacity” across thousands of universities, Blumenthal says. An increasing proportion of the professors at those universities have been trained in the United States and Europe, she says, and upon their return they have implemented Western research practices. “They are beginning to teach more like we do, publish like we do, and operate their labs like we do.”

When I was considering studying abroad, the things I were considering was the staring of the University and the course; job prospects; living costs; and the ease of getting a part-time job to support my studies. I don’t know if that helps at all. I am a British citizen who was considering Mainland Europe for a Masters.