Attracting International Students, Part One: Welcome—In Any Language

We all know that international students are coming to the U.S. in record numbers. But did you realize that number is now approaching one million? According to the 2015 report of the New York-based Institute of International Education (IIE), the growth rate has been growing steadily, to last year’s increase of 10% over 2014.

Why International Students?

A majority of admissions directors said they plan to increase efforts to recruit international students in the next year, according to the 2015 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Admissions Directors. But what, exactly, is the benefit for U.S. colleges?

  • Diversity that enhances the educational experience for all students.
  • Acquiring new talent among gifted students worldwide.
  • Connections with educational institutions around the world, for potential partnerships and reciprocal learning experiences for American students.
  • Increasing admissions numbers, at out-of-state tuition rates, in the face of struggles to meet admissions goals.

How Can Your University Welcome International Students?

With the dramatic increase in international student recruiting, colleges are ramping up efforts to create positive experiences for these students. If your university isn’t a welcoming place for students from diverse backgrounds, you’ll likely lose them to more progressive educational institutions.

Beyond meeting basic needs for housing and transportation, what can you do to create a welcoming environment? At 5 Degrees, we’ve gotten input from a number of leaders and volunteers across the country who work among international students. Here are some take-away ideas we’ve discovered:

  1. Offer traditional hospitality. When international students arrive, everything is new and potentially overwhelming. They’ll need logistical help getting to campus from the airport and setting up their new residences. A warm, personal greeting will make a world of difference in their initial experience.

    Large universities may have the resources to send buses to the airport, open dorms early, and provide dedicated staff members for international programs. Want to create a truly personal touch, though? Partner with local churches, campus organizations, and community groups. You can also engage your American students in this effort. Local volunteers can pick up students at the airport, provide temporary housing, or take students shopping as they’re setting up their new residences.
  2. Offer friendship programs. International students are usually eager to make friends and experience American culture. Again, churches, campus organizations, and community groups are often glad to partner with local universities to match incoming international students with American families or American students to build cross-cultural friendships.
  3. Offer professional connections. This has been described as “the new hospitality.” International students are here to further their professional possibilities, but they often lack connections in the workplace. Use your school’s business and community connections to introduce students to local professionals and leaders.

Once you have all the pieces in place to create a welcoming environment, how do you communicate with prospective international students? We'll discuss this next week in part 2 of this series.