New Research Highlights Wide Variations in Perceptions of International Student Retention

May 28, 2014

By Pete Mason

Sheila Schulte, NAFSA senior director of international enrollment management and international student and scholar services, today joined Rahul Choudaha, PhD, chief knowledge officer for World Education Services, for a special session unveiling the results of a new national survey examining why international undergraduate students in the U.S. leave their institutions of first enrollment before completing their degree.

One of the key findings of the report is that “poor retention is a function of the mismatch between expectations of students prior to enrollment and the actual experience of students once they are on campus,” said Choudaha, who served as lead researcher on the project.

The report found that educational professionals identified reputation (67 percent), finances (64 percent), and academics (62 percent) as the top reasons for which international undergraduate students leave their institutions before completing their degree. In contrast, the top reasons for dissatisfaction reported by students relate only to financial dimensions: access to jobs or internships (37 percent), affordability (36 percent), and availability of scholarships (34 percent).

Schulte noted that the goal of the ELS Education Services-funded research project was to not only identify the reasons why international undergrads left before completing their degree, but to establish a set of good practices for retaining these students.

“The analysis of the differences between what institutions think and what students think as factors affecting retention can inform practitioners of where and how to spend their time, money, and energy to assist international students on their campuses,” said Schulte.

Schulte and Choudaha concluded the session with a panel discussion featuring Rachel Errington from the University of West Florida and Jill Munro from the College of Wooster, who provided campus-based perspectives on implementing retention best practices.

The full U.S. Study of International Undergraduate Retention: Implications and Gaps between International Education Professionals and International Students report will be released by NAFSA later this summer.

Visit the NAFSA website for details and to download an infographic on the new research.


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