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Recruiting Intelligence

So You Want More International Students? Let's Consider the Competition

International student enrollment is a long-term investment for any academic institution. Building institutional capabilities, contacts and international brand recognition requires a multi-year approach and investment. Industry benchmarks and comparative data can let us know which institutions have been successful in building international enrollment successfully over the years. We used the IIE open door data from 2009 – 2012 for this analysis. For today’s Intead Insight, we focus on the following questions:

  • Which universities have been growing their international student population over the past few years?
  • How well do universities recruit additional international students when they have an established base of international student already?
  • Does an institution's growth rate continue on pace or does increased competition from other universities entering the field cause slower or flat growth for the leaders?

(Spoiler alert: highly branded universities with large international student populations outpace new entrants into the field by a long shot.)

Below you will find our insight on US-wide trends. We have also looked at U.S. regional trends by analyzing and comparing specific states: California, Ohio, New York and Massachusetts. For the regional analyses, please refer to our blog links.

Graph 1 shows you the institutions with the largest number of incremental international students enrolled during the past four years (left scale) as well as the percentage increase of those enrolled international students (right scale). For example,Northeastern University in Boston grew their international student body by 100% from 2009 to 2012 by adding 3,244 international students while University of Washington added 1,990 students and grew by 59%.

Graph 2 shows the 20 universities with the largest total number of international students.

Let’s consider our Northeastern example: the university has a total number of international students of 6,486 in 2012 (double what it had four years ago). With one exception all of the 20 universities with the largest number of international students in 2012 had benefited from increased international enrollment. Only the University of Texas Austin recorded a decline of international students of 6% during that time period.

Graph 1

Graph 2

Graph 3 displays the colleges with the highest growth rates across the country from 2009 - 2012. With the exception of the Central New Mexico Community College with 500 additional international students enrolled, the growth rates are all based on very small base figures. This chart shows that few new colleges have entered the international enrollment market in large scale during the past four years.

What we can see here is that brand and current scale matter a great deal. If you have a global brand, you have been able to attract international students in the past and you continue to benefit from the Chinese enrollment boom.

Of the 20 universities with the largest absolute number of students, 14 universities were also in the highest growth group by absolute growth. The number of international students at the 20 universities with the largest numbers grew twice as fast as overall international student enrollment. They grew by 26 percent compared to the overall growth rate of 13.8 percent of all universities reporting to IIE for the past four years.

Bottom Line: International student enrollment represents a big opportunity, but the majority of universities in the U.S. currently lack both the scale and the brand recognition to make large leaps forward. As university leadership sets its sights on larger international student enrollment figures, realistic expectations and projections are critical. To succeed, universities will need to find and invest in smart and cost efficient ways to compete with the bigger players and highly branded universities."Post and Pray" won't get you where you need to go.

Graph 3


Topics: Insights