+1 (978) 744-8828 Email Us  

Recruiting Intelligence

The Changing International Enrollment Realities…and a nod to AIEA

Blog-header-top-Changing-International-Enrollment-Realities-24Jan05_v2 (1)


A key driver for international students: the ability to gain hands-on work experience in their fields of study.   

If you’re paying attention to SEVIS stats, then you already know the demand for Optional Practical Training (OPT) has been steady for years now. Its numbers show that in 2022, the US pushed through 117,301 new OPT authorizations and 64,844 new STEM OPT authorizations for F-1 students. That’s up 87% and 307% respectively in one decade.  

The significant jump in the latter stat reflects improved opportunities for international STEM students. The STEM fields of study list keeps expanding and the length of stay upped in 2016 from 17-months to 24-months beyond the first year. All really good news for international students. Even better news for institutions like yours that recruit and support the students as well as employers like us who get to tap into their skills and drive. (Coming soon: A post about the journey of two of Intead’s very own and ambitious STEM OPT team members. Stay tuned!)  

The STEM OPT and how it plays out for international student recruitment and retention will be a big part of what we will be addressing head on next week at the AIEA conference in Washington, D.C.  

AIEA Is On! So many opportunities for idea exchange and learning. 

If you’ll be there (and we know many of you will be), sit in on our session, The View as a Data Analyst: International Enrollment Realities, on Feb. 19 at 10 a.m. featuring:  

  • Dr. Michael Wilhelm, Associate Provost for Global Partnerships and International Education at University of North Carolina Wilmington 
  • Dr. Khald Aboalayon, Academic Program Director, MS Data Analytics, SPS at Clark University 
  • Iliana Joaquin, Intead’s Senior Digital Marketing Manager 

Other sessions with Ben and Iliana will cover a range of important topics including global digital marketing, international alumni engagement, AI and enrollment management, and a fave: being an entrepreneur in a bureaucratic environment.  

While tapping into the STEM OPT student audience is not without its downstream hurdles (the not-so-small undertaking of building appropriate programs, training faculty, and developing employer connections come to mind), doing so feels like a no-brainer.  

We know your prospective students are eager to earn a quality degree and build a career. So, if your academics align with their goals, then you’ve already got their interest. Studies also show international students vying for STEM OPT are more likely to complete their degrees – fabulous on many levels. We’ll be diving much deeper into this topic later in the year. We’ll keep you posted. But you get the idea. 

The question now: how do you get them to your campus? Read on for the actionable insights… 

Seeing the clear and growing trend of heightened interest in STEM studies can become a singular focus for your recruitment strategy. While this trend is absolutely a growth area with tremendous upside, important to note that a broad base of support for your international enrollment will serve you well over the long term. While you focus energy and resources on recruiting STEM students (a wise move), do not neglect other areas of historical strength at your institution. A useful word to the very wise. 

As our colleague Pieter Vermeulen, Senior Director of International Recruitment at University of North Texas recently posted on Linked In, non-STEM international students in the US represent roughly 25% of the ~1M international students in the country. That means the vast majority are pursuing STEM degrees at this point.

So, let’s talk about capitalizing on the growing demand for international STEM students. The trick is in meeting this demand where the students are at.  

Know Your Audience 

How do you set yourself apart from so many other institutions that are tapping into the very same market? Like any audience, the first step is understanding who your international students are and what they need. 

  • Your to-do: Find out which programs students in your target markets (the countries where your brand is already established) are looking for and the type of jobs that are most viable for them when they return home post degree and OPT. Look at the economic trends in these regions. Can the students afford your institution? How are their student mobility stats trending? Excellent sources for mining this data: IIE, SEVIS, your own Google Analytics, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, LinkedIn, in-country job sites. 

Build Your Programs 

Hint: STEM OPT participants aren’t all computer scientists or engineers. Many are. But others are entrepreneurs and business-minded students who can also nab a STEM OPT authorization through non-STEM programs with specific science-related qualifications. 

  • Your to-do: First, per DHS, F-1 STEM extension-seeking students must hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in an eligible STEM field from an SEVP-certified school that is accredited at the time the student submits for their OPT extension. You likely are aware of this already. Here’s what we want you to consider: are the programs you currently offer the ones your prospects actually want? If you’ve done your audience research, this question should be easy to answer. If the answer is no, your follow up question: If we build a program prospects actually want, can they afford it? 

A lot of institutions are meeting international student demand by offering hybrid STEM programs that can nudge degrees like the MBA into STEM-certified territory. It’s a matter of wrapping the right science-based tools and academics into the overall program.  

Build a Culture of Internationalization 

Broad internationalization programming is so important for institutions seeking to develop all students into thinking, well-rounded citizens of the community they will ultimately call home. Internationalization requires strong and wide-spread support from your institution’s entire community across all aspects of the student experience. No easy task and the work is never actually done. It is ongoing. 

  • Your to-do: There’s a lot to unpack here. To that end, we recommend you check out this post with useful tips on international student expectations vs. realities. In short, build your international affairs community and develop cross-department committees. Prepare your faculty to support international students. Hire international faculty and staff. Help your campus colleagues understand where your international prospects and students come from. Institutions successfully pushing an internationalization strategy are better able to recruit the STEM OPT audience (among others). Feeling welcome and supported matters a whole lot when traveling from half a world away.  

Bolster Career Services 

The OPT-minded student is career driven. They will want to know what kind of opportunities they can expect to see on the other side of their degree. So many institutions talk a good game on this front when they actually have very little involvement in and support for a student’s successful transition to OPT and career. 

  • Your to-do: If you’ve promised them a STEM OPT-certified degree and have not developed the employer connections, when they fail to land that all important OPT job, that outcome will be shared on their social media channels highlighting their disappointment in the degree they earned from your institution. The degree, in and of itself, is not the end of their journey or the end of your institution’s responsibility. Build your employer connections and know who hires STEM OPT students or sponsors H-1B visas. And by all means, boost your alumni network so students can make connections for themselves around the world. STEM OPT seekers need more than resume reviews and interview prep. For inspiration, read part 1 and part 2 of our “Prospective Students Expect a Career Network” series. 

This post just scratches the surface of what STEM international students are expecting from institutions, but it’s a strong start. We’ll be having conversations about this at AIEA in a few days. Hope to see you there! If you can’t make it, watch this space for reflections and slides in the coming weeks. 

Intead Plus Info »

Email this post to a colleague »