Perceptions of International Student Retention Vary Substantially

NAFSA Research Focuses on Helping Educators Retain International Students


Rebecca Morgan,, 202.495.2553
Katie O’Connell,, 202.495.2559

WASHINGTON, May 28, 2014 – Perceptions of retention factors differ considerably between what international students actually think and what colleges and universities view as retention issues, according to a new national survey released today by NAFSA: Association of International Educators.  

In the three-phase research project, funded by ELS, entitled U.S. Study of International Undergraduate Retention: Implications and Gaps between International Education Professionals and International Students, 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).

The goals of the research were to identify the reasons international undergraduate students in the United States may leave their institutions of first enrollment before completing their degree, and to identify a set of good practices for retaining these students.

“One of the key takeaways 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,” explained Rahul Choudaha, Chief Knowledge Officer for World Education Services and the lead researcher for the report.

“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 Sheila Schulte, Senior Director, International Enrollment Management/International Student & Scholar Services at NAFSA. “The three main implications from the study that can help institutions set transparent expectations with international students are: understanding the diverse needs of the international student body, coordinating internationalization efforts across campus, and investing in programs and services that improve student experiences.”

See infographic for more information.