Past, Present, and Future
In 2018, NAFSA celebrated its 70th anniversary of serving international educators.
The Early Years
NAFSA was founded in 1948 as the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers to promote the professional development of U.S. college and university officials responsible for assisting and advising the 25,000 foreign students who had come to study in the United States after World War II. The academic institutions, government agencies, and private organizations that combined to form NAFSA knew that meeting the needs of diverse students required special knowledge and competencies.
A Name Change and a Broader Scope
The association's scope soon expanded to include admissions personnel, English-language specialists, and community volunteers who played an important role in helping foreign students acclimate to U.S. college communities. To reflect this growing and increasingly diverse membership, in 1964 the association changed its name to the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs.
NAFSA experienced a breakthrough in its federal government relationships in 1976 when John Richardson, then assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, changed the State Department’s interpretation of funding for NAFSA. This gave the association the opportunity to not only fund activities that advanced foreign student issues, but also to advance study abroad issues.
NAFSA celebrated its fortieth anniversary in 1988 with more than 3,000 participants at its annual conference, where Senator J. William Fulbright was one of the plenary speakers.
As the decade ended, the fall of the Berlin Wall, disintegration of the Soviet Union, and end of the Cold War indicated that significant political changes were to come. The international political system that emerged was unipolar, with the United States as the only remaining superpower, beginning an era of globalization that would impact the rapidly growing field of international education.
Decade of Growth
By 1990, as the number of foreign students in the United States approached the 400,000 mark, there were 6,400 NAFSA members on 1,800 campuses and increasing numbers of U.S. students were studying abroad.
Awareness grew of the importance of international competence. Larger numbers of NAFSA members led the way in creating opportunities for Americans to study abroad, participate in scholarly exchange programs, and study foreign areas and languages.
To reflect the now well-established role of NAFSA members in all aspects of international education and exchange, the name of the association was changed once more: In May 1990, the membership formally renamed the organization NAFSA: Association of International Educators. The acronym was retained to reflect NAFSA's proud past and broad name recognition.
A number of developments boosted international education as the new millennium began. NAFSA’s strategic objective of pursuing a U.S. international education policy received a big endorsement in April 2000 when President Bill Clinton signed a memorandum calling for the federal government to support international education. The following year, the attacks of September 11, 2001 emphasized the importance of international expertise for national security and international understanding. Congress also provided the first significant increase in Title VI and Fulbright-Hays funding since the 1960s. Later in the decade, Congress took further steps to expand U.S. participation in study abroad programs, including the creation of a 17-member Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program.
NAFSA’s Annual Conference and Expo continues to serve as the preeminent unifying destination for the diverse voices of international education to gather each year. The event offers attendees the most expansive views, segmented learning opportunities, and engaging networking events. Each year, nearly 10,000 attendees participate from more than 100 countries.