Is It Time for a U.S. International Education Strategy?

Across the globe, a range of government-sponsored internationalization strategies, policies, and funding helps countries attract international students and boost their own student mobility. Does the United States measure up?
Photo: Inbal Marilli/Unsplash
David Tobenkin

November 18, 2019, brought unwelcome news for U.S. international educators. For the third straight year, new international student enrollment in U.S. institutions declined; there was a 0.9 percent decrease during the 2018–19 academic year over 2017–18. The news came courtesy of the newly issued Open Doors report from the Institute of International Education in partnership with the U.S. Department of State. 

These numbers followed the trend of 2018’s Open Doors data, which showed a 6.6 percent decline in new international student enrollment from 2016–17 to 2017–18 and a 3.3 percent decline in new enrollments from 2015–16 to 2016–17.

Some of the big gainers in international student enrollment in recent years—including Australia, Canada, China, and Germany—have something that the United States does not: a national strategy for international student recruitment. Many have even more comprehensive national plans for higher education internationalization, which clearly played a key role in the rise of some of those nations as destination markets, higher education leaders say.

“If you look at the data for the countries that are putting in place international plans working on national efforts to recruit international students, you will find those are the countries that are increasing market share,” says Melanie Gottlieb, deputy director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO). “The efforts they are putting into their recruitment absolutely are paying off.”

Internationalization strategies can indicate a nation’s commitment to higher education, notes the British Council’s 2019 report The Shape of Global Higher Education: the Americas. According

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