Three Indisputable U.S. Higher Education Challenges
There is no shortage of opinions and articles detailing the challenges facing higher education in the U. S. While the academy argues that the role of a university and college education is to prepare students to be critical thinkers, become responsible citizens, and contribute to society, chief financial officers argue that the current business model is outdated, unsustainable, and needs to change.
In the book, The Innovative University, Paul LeBlanc, the president of Southern New Hampshire University, wrote:
“The model is broken and yet so much that we associate with a college education, that a degree requires four years of study and 120 earned credits, that undergraduate life is also about fraternities and athletic teams and dorm life, and that a faculty member with a terminal degree, usually a PhD, is inherently the best educator, is becoming unsustainable.”
There are several challenges facing higher education. This article will focus on three.
Public Perception of Higher Education
In a report published by the Lawlor Group in 2012, 80% of the adults polled indicated the education offered at many colleges and universities in the U.S. was not worth the cost. In a 2019 Pearson survey, the majority of respondents agreed with the earlier survey. In this same survey students around the world and in the U.S. expressed the belief that there are many ways of obtaining the education and the skills needed to secure a job after graduation. College students, according to the Pearson Survey, believe they can succeed in life without a college degree.
Parents are re-evaluating the return on the college investment and demanding proof of tangible, positive outcomes, i.e. jobs for their children after graduation. No longer can many families finance a college education by refinancing home mortgages nor are many willing to tap into retirement funds. College students don’t want to graduate with unmanageable loan bills that will be part of their economic life for years, or decades, after graduation. And 81% of college admissions counselors maintain that they are losing potential applicants due to concerns about accumulating unmanageable student loan debt.
Alternative Educational Delivery Paradigms
In an attempt to meet the demands of the marketplace, many schools are forging alliances with alternative educational delivery paradigms, including for-profit organizations, online learning platforms, academic boot camps, and company-sponsored certificate programs. IBM, for example, has created one of the most robust digital badge portfolios and is adding more and different apprenticeship opportunities in addition to offering its own boot camp. Certificates in cloud computing, cybersecurity, and data science are available through IBM. And JP Morgan Chase has initiated similar educational programs in Detroit.
Consider the opinion voiced by Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive:
“I don’t think a four-year degree is necessary to be proficient in coding. I think that is an old, traditional view.”
However, what alternative option is best and how can it be effectively delivered and monetized, remains elusive for many presidents, deans, and enrollment managers.
Changing demographics and fewer international students
According to Inside Higher Ed’s “2019 Survey of College and Admissions Officers,” a majority (52%) of admission directors reported they did not meet their enrollment targets for the fall semester and are concerned about meeting enrollment goals for next year.
When President Regan was inaugurated, 83% of Americans were white. That demographic has changed. According to a PEW research report the Hispanic population reached nearly 60 million in 2018. And from 2012 to 2019 the number of white high school college students increased 5% while the number of Hispanic students increased 27%. According to the WICHE report, Knocking at the College Door, by 2020 minority students will account for 45% of America’s high school graduates. (In 2009 that statistic was 38%.)
The United States’ proportion of international students has been declining for some time, contributing to fewer international students enrolling on U.S. colleges and universities. For several years it was this cohort of students, paying full tuition, that made it possible for many colleges and universities in the U.S. to meet their enrollment and financial goals. But, as was written earlier, this part of the prior business model is no longer working as it once did.
For decades, Chinese students have been the largest number of international students enrolled on U.S. colleges and universities. However, that is changing. In an article published by The World View, 87% of Chinese parents are re-evaluating plans about sending their children to study on American campuses and are now considering enrollment in other countries such as the U.K., Canada, and Australia.
Tony Pals, spokesman for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, stated the following: “Economic, demographic, marketplace, and technological trends are converging to cause an unprecedented time of change for higher education. The new reality is that colleges are expecting to do more with less for years to come.”
There are certainly more challenges facing higher education in the U.S. than the three listed in this article. But these three are fundamental to understanding other challenges.
“The Future? The Things that got us here will not get us there.”
What did we learn about international higher education in 2019 and what can we expect in 2020?
This is the first in a series of articles I will share over the next several weeks that examine the current state of international higher education in the United States and worldwide.
What did we learn about international higher education in 2019
The United States continued to lose market share of the internationally mobile student.
Although the United States still has more international students enrolled on its campuses than any other country, in fact, the U.S. has been losing market share of this cohort for several years. The number of new foreign students has declined 10 percent since 2015. And foreign student enrollment in the U.S. decreased 6.6 percent in the 2017-18 academic year.
There are several reasons for this decline as all of you reading this article know. It would be simplistic to lay all of the blame at the foot of the Trump administration’s travel bans, changes in the Optional Practical Training requirements, tariffs and trade war with China. To do this is to ignore global international higher education changes that have been occurring for several years, including:
Countries with the fastest growing populations and growing middle classes in Asia, like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam have made education a priority and have invested heavily in the sector. The result has been the creation of political and economic infrastructures in these countries that support higher education enrollments and regional education hub growth.
Other countries such as Canada, Australia, Japan, Germany, South Korea, among others, have made international higher education recruitment a priority and have successfully recruited and enrolled international students in 2019.
Another reason for international student decline in 2019 in the U.S. is financial. Austria, France, Germany and Norway all offer almost- free education to international students, in sharp contrast to the high tuition and fee costs of most American colleges and universities.
China’s Belt and Road worldwide economic and infrastructure projects include offering generous admission and scholarship opportunities to international students. The majority of international students enrolled on Chinese campuses are from Belt and Road countries. It is impossible how to know how many of these students, especially students from Africa, would have enrolled in the U.S. What we do know is that some portion of this cohort elected to study in China, not the U.S.
What can we expect in 2020:
Competition from other countries will continue to increase in 2020. Australia Canada, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and the United Arab Emirates have set ambitious international student recruitment goals for 2020. Many of these countries offer easy and flexible visa application processes and generous employment options after graduation. Many offer scholarships to international students.
U.S. international deans and recruiters will look beyond their traditional international student markets and consider recruiting students from other countries. They will recruit future international students based on economic and political considerations and match recruiting outreach to future employment opportunities. They will bring together the directors of admission, career counseling, research, alumni affairs, and the registrar to help direct future recruitment activities to include the countries of current international students and international alumni. They will collaborate with the director of admission to outreach to potential international students enrolled in local high schools and two- year colleges. (There are nearly 250,000 international students studying in the U.S. who are enrolled in American high schools and two-year community colleges.)
Technology will play an increasingly important role in future U.S. recruitment efforts. For ten years I supervised, from Boston, the admission of Senegalese students to a two-year, combined degree program in Dakar. Students studied two years in Dakar and the final two years in Boston. Throughout their enrollment these Senegalese students had the option to also study online.
In the report, The Shape of International Education to 2025, the authors illustrate how digital technologies are transforming international student mobility.
International deans will collaborate with academic deans to offer international students online programs, reducing the time and money it will take to enroll in American programs.
We should expect international deans to give the directors of career counseling a seat at the table when writing 2020 international strategic plans. Students, whether they are international or domestic, want to have some assurance that there will be a return on their financial investment after graduation. It will become increasingly important to match academic programs with future employment potential for international students once they return to their home countries.
How will American international deans and recruiters increase the number of international students in 2020? Examining potentially new and different international student markets based on research and current student enrollment, offering online courses, offering courses or programs in-country, and expanding collaboration among campus administrators are among suggestions that offer some potential for growth.
As has been my custom over the past five years, this end-of-the-year blog will contain no statistics or data supporting or disproving assumptions about the changing face of international student recruitment and enrollment. I will not share with you my thoughts on the impact of the Brexit referendum in Britain or the impact of the Trump election on future international student enrollments.
In the next year, my book, International Student Mobility and the New World Disorder, will be published and in that publication I will share with you why I believe major shifts are already in place for where international students will enroll in the future and how international deans and recruiters will recruit international students in the future.
For now, all I wish to do in this posting is to wish you and your family and your colleagues health and happiness in 2018.
2019 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange – Any surprises?
Since 1948 the Institute of International Education, in collaboration with the United States’ Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, has been gathering data and publishing statistics on the number of international students enrolling on American colleges and universities, their countries of origin, and the number of Americans studying abroad. On November 19, 2019 the Institute published statistics for the 2018-19 academic year.
Newspapers like the South China Morning Post, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe all reported the following:
For the third year in a row, enrollment in American colleges and universities decreased at all academic levels. Undergraduate students declined by 2.4%. Graduate student enrollment declined by 1.3% and the number of international non-degree students declined by 5 %. Only the numbers for Optional Practical Training increased, with a 9.6 % increase over the previous year.
History of decline
In 1970, the percentage of international students enrolling in American colleges and universities was 36.7%. By 2001, the percentage was 28 and by 2017 the figure declined to 24%.
In 2015-16, international student enrollment in the United States increased by 7% from the prior year but that was a slowdown in growth from a 10% increase in 2014.
In 2016-17, international student enrollment in the United States increased 3.4%. The following year, the increase was 1.5 percent, the slowest growth since 2002 and was mostly due to an increase in the number of international students participating in Optional Practical Training, which increased by 15.8%.
In 2018, enrollment of new international students in the United States decreased 6.3 % in undergraduate programs, and 5.5% in graduate degree programs. Chinese students, who make up one-third of all international student enrollments in the United States, increased 3.6 %. However, in the previous year, the growth in Chinese student enrollments was 6.8%. Indian students, who make up nearly a fifth of all international studying in the United States, increased 5.4%. However, in the previous year, the growth in Indian student enrollments was 12.3%.
2019 International enrollment decline
A survey of international student enrollments for fall 2019 revealed a 0.9% decline in new enrollments. Approximately 51% of the more than 500 institutions surveyed reported decreases in new international student enrollments. 42% reported increases and 7% reported no change.
Recruiting agents in China and India report a softening of interest from prospective students to study in the United States.
Reasons for decline
What are all these prior statistics telling American international deans and educators? Simply, the decline and proportion of international students selecting to study in the United States has been in decline for several years. The 2019 report should not come as a surprise to anyone who follows the economic, political, and technological worldwide changes of the past several years.
The rest of the world has been creating quality international educational infrastructures that are less expensive than many schools in the United States. The rest of the world makes it easier for international students to obtain visas to study and work after graduation. In many parts of the world, the environment is safer and more welcoming than in the United States.
Many countries with robust international outreach programs are safer than many states in America. As of November 19,2019 there were 371 mass shootings in the United States. In a 2017 Open Doors report, Paul Schulmann, research manager for the Institute of International Education, reported that 80% of Indian institutions surveyed indicated safety was a concern.
Many countries have national programs to encourage international students to study. For example, when I searched for data for the University of Alberta in Canada, I first received information about the benefits of studying in Canada.
This year’s report lists efforts of the State Department and its educational offices worldwide to promote study in the United States. However, on January 3, 2019, the State Department announced that it was closing all of its offices in China that promote American education.
IIE research manager, Paul Schulman, wrote:” The political environment in the United States plays a role in declining international student enrollment, not just in terms of student perceptions, but also in the public policies that are manifestation of this environment.”
A survey conducted by Royall &Company in 2017 revealed that one-third of prospective international students were less interested in studying in the United States because of the political climate and 74% of surveyed admission officers agreed that travel bans and negative rhetoric have made it more difficult to recruit international students.
International students contribute more than $45 billion to the United States’ economy and directly or indirectly support more than 450,000 jobs. Between 8 and 10% of total net tuition comes from international students’ tuition and fees.
Higher education enrollment is projected to reach 332 million by 2030, an increase of 56%, or 120 million. How many international students will decide to enroll in the United States in the future?
Much will depend on the political environment in the United States and efforts to strengthen America’s “soft power” around the world. Much will depend on international deans and recruiters to re-visit international enrollment plans and decide to recruit students using the strategic use of technology, creating international alliances and diversifying their recruitment portfolios.
The decline in international students coming to the United States to study represents a shift not only in the perception of the value of an American degree but also a shift in the value of the educational opportunities in many other countries.