The number of international students at U.S. colleges and universities increased during the academic year that ended back in the spring, according to a report out this week from the State Department and the Institute of International Education.
Earlier in the pandemic, the number of foreign students fell by about 15%. While it hasn’t fully rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, a lot of those students are now returning.
If you think of a college education as a product, then “‘Made in the U.S.A.’ is still a very important mark to have on your diploma,” said Allan Goodman, who leads the Institute of International Education, which collaborated on that report.
The U.S. has a long history of providing consistent, quality higher education, he said.
“We have a higher ed system that is merit-based in terms of its admissions, it’s largely corruption free,” Goodman said. (Recent highly publicized admissions scandals notwithstanding.) “That’s what people around the world welcome and want.”
In the U.S., we offer lots of different kinds of higher education — and a lot of it. Think trade schools, community colleges, liberal arts colleges, big public research universities.
Meanwhile, plenty of other countries with good schools only have a limited number of spots available, according to Catharine Hill, managing director of the education nonprofit Ithaka S&R.
“And so it’s rationed, you know, the seats are rationed,” she said. “And so then those families and students look internationally for alternatives.”
And schools here in the States are looking for them. Colleges often provide financial aid to domestic students, Hill said. But they need international students who can pay the sticker price.
“They will make decisions about who to admit partly based on whether they can pay,” she said.
But schools shouldn’t just look at the income side of the ledger, per Ravi Rajan, president of the California Institute of the Arts. Up to a third of students at the private college just north of Los Angeles come from abroad.
The school has had to spend money supporting them, he said. Helping them get visas, supporting student organizations for them and helping faculty understand where they’re coming from — literally.
“When geopolitics change, really kind of keeping tabs on that, and then making sure that we have workshops for faculty and staff to do that,” Rajan said.
Because if students have a good experience, they’ll become recruiters themselves.
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