Why are US universities still so reliant on a narrow pool of recruitment markets?

Published 13/05/2022

Much has been written about Covid-19’s impact on international higher education, and how universities worldwide can adapt to the changes wrought by the pandemic.

The debate has been particularly fierce in the United States – and it’s not hard to see why.

The USA’s initially mixed response to Covid-19, combined with the uncertainty caused by the Trump administration’s international student visa policy, meant that the USA experienced a particularly steep decline in international enrolments in the first year of the pandemic.

Understandably, much of the current discussion has focused on whether the USA can retain its place as the most popular international study destination.

The Open Doors 2021 Fall International Student Enrollment Snapshot pointed to some green shoots of growth for the USA, with a 68% increase in international students enrolling at a US institution for the first time.

But Open Doors also reported that China and India accounted for over half of the international students who applied to the USA (35% and 18% of students respectively) This stat raises questions about the long-term viability of US institutions’ recruitment strategies in a post-Covid world.

Our latest report, ‘The State of US International Applications 2022’ showed applications from China decreased by nearly 26% and applications from India by 21% between 2021 and 2022.

And while it’s true that the USA continues to be an attractive destination for students in this market, ours is not the first analysis that makes the case for colleges to diversify their international student recruitment markets.

Earlier this year, a joint report for Unibuddy and Studyportals identified a ‘next frontier’ of emerging markets in South East Asia, Europe and South America. Our latest analysis likewise reveals the key recruitment markets where interest in a US education is growing.

In Asia, these include Pakistan (165%), Taiwan (71%), Japan (83%) and Bangladesh (58%). Our report also highlights a high concentration of growth for US institutions in Europe, including the Czech Republic (154%), the Netherlands (132%) and Portugal (133%) .

Our new report also contains anecdotal insights from BridgeU international school counsellors, who shared their observations on why their students choose a US higher education, and their experiences of navigating the US application process.

These students’ insights are a testament to the rich cultural, academic and geographical diversity of international school students. They also highlight the importance of US institutions taking a highly adaptive, localised approach to international student enrolment.

For example, while one counsellor in Brazil felt that US universities offered her students a range of generous financial aid packages, other counsellors in Western Europe told us that the increasingly high price tag of a US education is prompting their students to consider destinations such as Spain, South Korea, Sweden and Japan.

“True diversification will require US admissions offices to look past macro-trends and global mobility stats”

True diversification will require US admissions offices to look past macro-trends and global mobility stats, and focus instead on meeting international students where they are, both figuratively and literally.

True diversification means looking at the cultural contexts, academic goals and personal aspirations of students in specific cities and localities.

Understanding the localised needs of college counsellors and students means that US institutions are more likely to enrol their best-fit candidates, and ensure that they’re building a long term recruitment strategy that grows academic and cultural diversity on their campus.

About the author: This is a sponsored post from James Leach, Senior Content Writer at BridgeU, the market-leading provider of university and careers guidance services for international schools. BridgeU also works with universities, helping them to partner with international schools in 138 countries. The full findings of BridgeU’s latest US applications report can be downloaded here.

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