Recruiting in the Western Hemisphere

Speakers at EducationUSA conference discuss recruitment within a diverse hemisphere.

August 5, 2019

WASHINGTON -- The Department of State’s annual EducationUSA forum last week brought together advisers from the network of global EducationUSA advising centers and international enrollment officials for a series of discussions on the recruiting landscape in various corners of the world.

In several sessions Wednesday, presenters discussed strategies for American colleges interested in expanding their student recruitment within the Western hemisphere, a region that accounts for 9.7 percent of international students in the U.S., second only to the proportion from Asia. Five countries from the hemisphere -- Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela -- are all among the top 25 countries in terms of the numbers of students in the U.S. And seven countries -- Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru -- are among the top 25 study abroad destinations for American students.

“If you’re already sending some of your students to these countries, those are logical places to recruit students back to your institutions,” said Jennifer Brown, a program officer for EducationUSA.

Presenters stressed the diversity of the countries in the hemisphere in terms of GDP, language and model of high school system. So with the caveat that no recruiting advice is likely to apply equally to a place like Canada versus a place like Curaçao, a part of the Dutch Caribbean, EducationUSA advisers identified some recruiting challenges and opportunities common to at least some of the countries in the region.

Among the challenges, they cited English proficiency levels as a common challenge in many countries in the Americas. Another common challenge relates to costs or perceptions of costs, and currency fluctuations in some countries that have decreased citizens’ purchasing power.

Given the importance of cost issues to many students in the region, presenters focused heavily on the opportunities associated with government scholarship programs, both U.S. Fulbright grants as well as scholarships offered by home country governments.

Many countries across the hemisphere offer scholarship support. Maria Mercedes Salmon, EducationUSA's regional education advising coordinator for North America, Central America and Caribbean, listed seven countries in her region that provide government scholarships for international undergraduate study (Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Panama) and six that have government scholarships for graduate studies (Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Honduras, Panama and Mexico). The Dominican Republic, Mexico and Panama all provide government scholarships for teacher training, while Canada and Mexico have scholarships for short-term, nondegree study.

Trends in student mobility to the U.S. vary across the Western Hemisphere: the number of students coming to the U.S. from Canada and Mexico declined last year (by 4.3 and 8.1 percent, respectively), while the number from Brazil rose by 11.7 percent. The number from Central America increased by 2.9 percent, while the number from the Caribbean dipped by 0.2 percent.

All five of the Southern Cone countries -- not just Brazil, but also Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay -- saw increases in the number of students they sent to the U.S. Among the Andean nations, the number of students coming from Venezuela -- which is in the midst of an economic and social crisis and is the No. 23 leading country in terms of the number of students it sends to the U.S. -- decreased by 2 percent. Colombia, the No. 25 country, had a modest 0.1 percent decrease but has still experienced about 2 percent net growth over the past two years.

Top fields of study for students mirror those of other regions: business and entrepreneurship, science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, and social sciences.

EducationUSA advisers speaking at the forum emphasized the value of building up partnerships with local institutions, many of which are looking to internationalize and create opportunities for their own students and faculty. The premier program to promote institutional partnerships in the region is the 100,000 Strong in the Americas program, a public-private partnership between the State Department, Partners of the Americas and NAFSA: Association of International Educators, which provides grant funding for exchange and training partnerships.

Speakers emphasized the priority placed on workforce development in the region, and the opportunity for colleges to be involved in training programs. In Mexico, for example, top industries include manufacturing (aerospace, electronics, medical devices and textiles), oil, agriculture, tourism and renewable energies, according to Rodrigo de los Santos, an EducationUSA adviser there. "Pay attention to the energy sector and the automation trends," he urged. "This is going to change the country in the next five to 10 years."

EducationUSA advisers also described a growing interest in coming to the U.S. for experiential learning and opportunities for short-term study, internships and professional certificate programs. "We see a lot of interest in, 'I want to do a summer program,' 'I want to do an intensive English preparation program,'" Mercedes Salmon said. "English for a specific purpose is becoming also a popular option, and certificate programs for those who are perhaps midcareer."


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