International Students: An Approach to Combat the Looming Enrollment Cliff

  • Industry trends
  • 4/5/2024
Professor talking to a student in a library

Key insights

  • Many colleges and universities are considering strategies to overcome a potential enrollment cliff as the demographic landscape changes in the United States.
  • International students could be an untapped market to help increase enrollment.
  • To attract talent from across the globe, institutions must consider the long-term investment and identify areas they may need to address to support these students.

Is your college prepared for an enrollment cliff?

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The demographic landscape for higher education is changing, and colleges and universities need to rethink the future of enrollment. In the United States, a peak in high school graduates is anticipated in 2025, followed by a rapid decline. Also, the U.S. birth rate is continuing to fall.

It’s a major topic of discussion at board meetings in higher education as they look at strategies for overcoming a looming enrollment cliff. For some colleges and universities, international students may be an untapped market.

Focus on international student enrollment

International students continue to pursue degrees in the United States, with the majority making the trip for a graduate or undergraduate degree. We have continued to see increases in international enrollment across the industry.

Key points to diversifying your enrollment base

To gain more international students, consider areas your organization may need to address to help attract and then support these students.

Build a culture of support for international students

Many students find value in going to a diverse institution with students from across the globe. International students can bring life into an institution with their cultural traditions, diverse points of view, and creative ideas. Increasing your international student population could also be a boon for domestic students seeking a rich college experience.

Think beyond admissions
The admissions department might have goals to grow, but sometimes retaining students is an afterthought. Consider what you can do to help keep international students at your school.

Students traveling across the world to attend your institution must feel part of the community and have the appropriate resources.

Most institutions have an “office of international students” or something similar providing support to students as well as immigration assistance. How much focus does your organization place on these resources? To increase support, reflect on the budget and financial commitments your organization may need to expand this office, provide elevated services, and staff it sufficiently.

This office is a key piece; however, it’s not the only one. The entire institution, across all areas, needs to be on board. Train campuswide resources on how to support international students and their needs, as well.

“Increasing your international enrollment is an institutional commitment; we are all here to serve the students.” – Liz Nino, Executive Director of International Enrollment at Augustana College

Start with orientation to provide international students with appropriate programming for cultural integration. They must learn what is expected at a higher education institution in the United States. It’s not only a step up to college, but they are moving out of their home country and may need additional support.

Review cost considerations for international students

Take time to understand the cost to attend your organization.

International students are typically self-funded and not eligible for federal student financial aid. How might financial assistance play into their decision to attend your school? Identify any additional institutional scholarships and grants available to help attract international talent to your institution.

Prepare to make a long-term commitment

Everyone at an institution should take ownership in attracting talent from across the globe; however, it does not happen overnight.

To be successful, it must be a long-term investment. The investment can pay off financially with the right time and effort. Once your institution is established and known for being successful in this space, organic growth is likely, as well.

How we can help

With the looming demographic and enrollment cliff, many institutions are starting to get creative. International enrollment is becoming a considerable option for helping colleges and universities diversify their enrollment strategies.

Are you feeling the stress of financial sustainability? Do you need assistance leveraging data to make strategic decisions? CLA’s higher education professionals use their deep industry knowledge to help you address your institution's specific business challenges, including providing financial modeling, digital tools, and foreign tax filing assistance.

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