Before 2020, souring diplomatic relations between China and the US counted among several variables that precipitated in a small-but-steady decline in international student enrollment at American universities. Compounded with the global COVID-19 pandemic and skepticism regarding the initial US coronavirus response, perceptions of the study destination worsened not only in China but around the world, contributing to what would become historic international enrollment losses.
Over the course of 2021, INTO conducted two global surveys of education counselors and agents to gauge sentiment toward different destination countries as the pandemic continued — one in spring, and one in fall. The surveys show that, in the last year, perceptions of the US as a study destination have improved significantly in the China, Hong Kong and Macau (CHKM) region, and across the globe. Simultaneously, the latest Open Doors and visa issuance data suggest student demand is rebounding, too.
Although the emergence of the Omicron variant has renewed anxieties around international educational exchange — more so in some regions than others — these findings serve as strong signs that US international higher education is on the road toward recovery.
Over the last 22 months, education agents have offered higher education institutions a lifeline to prospective international students around the world. Continuing to support students in finding their best-fit universities through initial lockdowns and subsequent case surges, agents have also been the first to register the inevitable changes in study abroad decision-making brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
INTO’s recent, global agent survey shows that, across the board, agents feel study abroad aspirants are increasingly price-sensitive and focused on securing a stronger return on their investment from their international degree, especially in terms of career outcomes. At the same time, though agents anticipate student demand will return to face-to-face learning, they have registered increased interest in blended delivery among rising international students — a definite departure from pre-pandemic preferences. Amid these emerging and enduring trends, one thing is clear: flexibility must feature in the international education sector’s strategies to engage and support students as they navigate the new terrain before them.
This International Education Week finds the sector at an inflection point. After a year and a half of adapting to distance learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many students navigated travel restrictions and quarantine requirements to cross the globe and get to campus this fall.
On the part of international administrators and educators, there were hopes for a speedier recovery to pre-pandemic enrollment levels than has occurred. But case spikes, subsequent lockdowns, economic fallout and increased vigilance regarding global travel posed significant obstacles to such progress over the course of 2021.
While COVID-19 has taught us many lessons — not least of all how hard it is to predict the future — there is every reason to be cautiously optimistic that we have come through the worst of the pandemic’s impacts. Here are four trends influencing student mobility that set the stage for the international education sector’s continued recovery in 2022 and beyond.
This blog post draws from NAFSA resources on sponsored student recruitment strategy created in collaboration with Krista Kennedy, MS, Sponsored Student Program Administrator, Portland State University; Matthew Sacco, MA, Director of International Enrollment Partnerships, George Mason University; and William Shuey, MPA, Assistant Director of Sponsored Relations, Pennsylvania State University.
As we adjust our desk lamps and dust off our backgrounds in preparation for a fully virtual NAFSA, this year’s theme, “Designing our Shared Future,” gives us ample opportunity to reflect on how we better engage with communities around the world and serve the next generation of international students post-pandemic. Make no mistake: Institutions that diversify their recruitment efforts to meet new challenges now will reap the rewards of recovery in fall 2021 and beyond.
US universities can bolster their international-student recruitment strategies by working with sponsoring organizations—governmental or private entities that provide full or partial scholarships for students to study around the world. Mounting a successful sponsored student recruitment strategy means focusing your institution’s efforts in a quickly changing sponsorship landscape, building relationships with sponsoring bodies, and smoothly interfacing with those organizations while supporting students.