A new American Council on Education report calls for a more coordinated effort to recruit and improve the experience of international students studying at U.S. colleges.
Institutions attempt to attract foreign students, who often pay full tuition price, but there is a "gap between rhetoric and reality in the international student experience," the report explains.
International enrollment is declining after a decade of growth, in part due to inhospitable immigration policies under the Trump administration and the pandemic.
Foreign students are not only lucrative for colleges and the economy, they also help to create a more global campus experience, the report states. Schools enrolling large shares of international students highlighted that value this fall, when the pandemic made it difficult for them to get to campus.
But international enrollment was already in trouble. The total count of international students in the U.S. fell for the first time in over a decade during the 2019-20 academic year, according to a recent Institute of International Education survey. The pandemic dealt a further blow, coinciding with a 16% decrease in total international enrollment in the fall and a 43% decrease in new foreign students, IIE found.
The report lays out how colleges can be more involved in assisting international students, from helping them navigate admissions policies to connecting them to alumni networks upon graduation.
Campuses need to learn "cultural competencies" to truly understand and help international students, said Miriam Feldblum, the co-founder and executive director of the Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, which advocates for lenient immigration policies.
Officials should look beyond international student offices and involve all campus groups in developing policies that benefit this population, including campus police and mental health counselors, she said.
She recommended colleges assess their efforts on this front if they have not already done so. While many of the ideas and recommendations in ACE's report are not "groundbreaking," Feldblum said, it is notable that the organization is drawing attention to these issues right now.
ACE is emphasizing that the entire campus needs to be involved with international student success, said Robin Helms, assistant vice president of learning and engagement at ACE, and one of the report's authors.
She said one area colleges can work on is engaging with international alumni and leveraging them to help current international students.
And while the pandemic persists, colleges need to be more mindful of those students' needs, Helms said, which can involve offering class times that fit their time zones or making sure they have access to campus services.
"They need moral support, this is very stressful on so many levels," she said.