Looking Past China

At gathering of international educators, panelists discuss emerging destinations for international student recruitment.

May 31, 2013

ST. LOUIS – China has in recent years dominated the flow of international undergraduates coming to the United States – but that’s an old story. A session Thursday at the annual NAFSA: Association of International Educators conference focused on identifying “the next big thing” (or place) in international student recruitment, drawing on data from the College Board and the experiences of recruiters at two different types of institutions.

“China and India have been top of mind,” said Clay Hensley, director of international relations and strategy for the College Board. Saudi Arabia too, where, due to the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Program, the numbers of students coming to the U.S. increased by 50 percent last year. But Hensley and his co-presenters focused on other potentially emerging destinations, in four regions or subregions: South America, particularly Brazil and Ecuador; West Africa, especially Nigeria and Ghana; the Greater Mekong, including Vietnam and Thailand; and other countries in the Persian Gulf aside from Saudi Arabia, notably Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

In the Persian Gulf, SAT registration trends have really taken off, Hensley said, as has traffic on the college search website run by the College Board. Lin Larson, a senior international specialist at the University of California at Berkeley, noted that applications from the U.A.E. have been on the rise at her institution, with half the applications coming from non-Emirati residents attending international schools.

Interestingly, College Board data show that Drexel University, in Philadelphia, receives more SAT score reports from the Greater Mekong than any other U.S. institution (next on the list are the big names, with Berkeley, Stanford University, the University of California at Los Angeles, and Harvard University rounding out the top five).want me to e-mail Drexel and ask why? I know folks there. -sj Many of the factors driving growth in Vietnam are similar to those in China, Hensley said, including a desire for English-language education and a general opening up of the society, but Vietnamese students look somewhat different in terms of the types of institutions they’re interested in.

“While Chinese students are either applying to very prominent institutions or big publics, particularly in the Midwest, we’re seeing different patterns from Vietnam – a lot more smaller liberal arts institutions,” Hensley said.

Larson also noted that Berkeley is seeing significant numbers of Vietnamese transfer students who are beginning at California community colleges. And, beyond the Mekong, Larson said she was excited about the potential of the Philippines. “Talking to people, the hotel workers, the taxi drivers, the shopkeepers [on a recent visit], that economy is just ready to go," she said. (Indeed, The Wall Street Journal published an article about the surprisingly rapid growth of the country's economy on Thursday.)

In West Africa, Nigeria leads the way in terms of SAT volumes and outward mobility statistics, but Hensley said Ghana seems poised to grow. Without external scholarship funding, however, the challenge in recruiting in Africa is finding students with the financial means to attend American institutions. Webster University, a St. Louis-based institution with branch campuses around the world, is trying a different tack, opening a new campus in Accra his fall. “There are a lot of talented students there. They’re very much looking for a U.S.-style education, but they do not have the funding to come to the United States,” said Calvin Smith, Webster’s director of international recruitment and services.

Finally, the growth of students in Brazil, driven by a booming economy and the government-funded Science Without Borders scholarship program, is well-established. But Smith said not to overlook Ecuador, where he’s had luck recruiting in secondary schools in Quito and Guayaquil.

Hensley closed the session by describing broad trends in international recruitment, including the key role of government-sponsored scholarship programs in influencing mobility trends. In addition to the Saudi and Brazilian foreign scholarship programs, presenters cited a new plan by the Japanese government to provide funds for short-term study abroad. Japanese students make up the seventh-largest group of international students in the U.S., but their numbers have been on a 15-year decline.


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