August 7, 2023

Deciphering the Dynamics: A Deep Dive into US Institutions and International Student Enrollment


Jose Flores

Sophie Hogan's article in The PIE Magazine highlights the uneven distribution of international students in US institutions, with 90% enrolling in just 10% of them. While this concentration might suggest a preference for renowned institutions or specific locations, there's potential in promoting the myriad of "hidden gems" in the country. With an anticipated decline in domestic enrollment, institutions are encouraged to diversify their recruitment strategies, considering various student demographics and needs.

Reading through Sophie Hogan’s recent article in The PIE Magazine, I couldn’t help but marvel at the intricacies of the American education system, especially in the context of international student enrollment. This article strikes a chord, drawing attention to the changing dynamics of higher education in the US, especially in the wake of the present international enrollment scenario. But as we delve deeper, there are broader questions to consider.

The 90% Conundrum: Is it Really that Concentrated?

Firstly, Hogan presents an interesting proposition: 90% of international students enroll at just 10% of US institutions. It's a staggering number, isn't it? The data from the National Center for Education Statistics and IIE certainly paints a skewed picture of international student distribution. And while this might raise eyebrows, it also underscores an important point: opportunity. If 90% of students are flocking to the top 500 institutions, what's happening with the others?

Beyond the Top-Tier: Untapped Potential

Jill Blondin’s comments really resonated with me. Yes, international students might have a penchant for certain geographic locations or renowned institutions, but the US is brimming with fantastic colleges and universities. So, how do we make these "hidden gems" more visible to prospective international students? With a myriad of options, how can institutions stand out without being overwhelming?

The Balancing Act: Domestic vs. International Enrollment

There's a broader challenge looming on the horizon: the predicted decline in domestic enrollment. As Hogan rightly points out, institutions will need to diversify their recruitment strategies. Jon Stauff’s insights from South Dakota State University shed light on the need for a holistic approach to enrollment, spanning across undergraduate, graduate, international, and online learners. It's not just about filling seats; it's about evolving with changing demographics and needs.

Changing the Narrative: Adaptation is Key

Ben Waxman's, CEO of Intead,  perspective is a real eye-opener. The focus shouldn't be solely on enrollment numbers but on understanding the diverse needs of different student segments. Institutions can't simply rebrand overnight; they need to genuinely adapt. As the saying goes, "Change is the only constant." But how ready are institutions to embrace this change?

The Bigger Picture: Survival of the Adaptable

One of the most poignant moments in Hogan’s article was Waxman’s emphasis on the entrepreneurial mindset. Whether targeting students from Kenya, Brazil, or non-traditional learners closer to home, the ability to innovate and adapt will dictate survival. Charles Cormack’s initiative with the Cormack Consultancy Group offers a glimmer of hope, showcasing innovative solutions like franchising and collaborative provision.

The article leaves us with more than just statistics and observations; it presents a clarion call for US institutions. As international educators, as Blondin rightly points out, the onus is on us to showcase the opportunities and value proposition for international students. Every institution, whether top-tier or not, has a unique story to tell and a unique value to offer.

To all the educators and administrators out there, I ask: How will you share your institution's story? And to prospective students, both domestic and international, I say: Look beyond the rankings. There's a world of opportunity waiting for you.