Over the last two academic years my colleagues and I have witnessed previously unimaginable difficulties for U.S. colleges and universities – from financial and technology challenges to student and faculty mental, emotional, and physical wellness. During this time, the nearly 1 million students who come from abroad seeking an American university experience and education each year have faced unique and especially tough decisions.
Prior to the pandemic, we saw a slight downward trend in the number of international students at U.S. schools in recent years. During the 2020-2021 academic year, some colleges and universities reported as much as a 46% drop in new international students and a 15% decline in total international student enrollment, when compared to the 2019-2020 academic year. These students play a critical role in bringing diversity and fresh perspectives to campus culture, but they also contribute significantly to the overall U.S. economy. In 2019 alone, international students contributed nearly $45 billion to the American economy. Higher education is one of the country’s top service exports.
According to a recent project by APM Reports and The Chronicle of Higher Education, international students are opting to study in other countries for many reasons – the cost and return on an American degree, their personal safety in the U.S. and immigration policy. These sentiments and ideas have in many cases been amplified by the pandemic. While the economic impact of losing international students is grave, it may pale in comparison to the long-term effects on foreign diplomacy and the health of colleges and universities nationwide.
These problems are larger than any one institution can take on alone but there are steps schools can take to better protect and care for their international student population. Schools can offer training for staff and faculty members to raise awareness and increase support for other cultural norms. Many advocates recommend counseling services dedicated to providing academic, mental and emotional and visa support to international students as well.
There is endless opportunity for companies and organizations that support higher education to make a difference, too. In the coming months and years, American policy makers and colleges and universities will be forced to consider new ways to support and protect international student populations.
For many international students and their families, paying the semester’s tuition and fees can present challenges. International students are forced to navigate money wiring processes and systems designed only to support the U.S. dollar. Any snag in the process can create major headaches for students, such as not being able to sign up for classes.
Our latest solution – Transact International Payments – seeks to make paying tuition and fees easier for international students and their families. The platform provides an integrated experience from the student’s account within their institution’s portal. The solution is designed to speed transfers, eliminate wire fees, and to simplify overpayments and reconciliations of international payments, which benefits both students and university administrators.
Being able to provide all students with a consistent, seamless campus experience - especially, digitally – is a significant measure to show support for international student populations. The pandemic forced many campus administrators to rapidly develop creative technology solutions for students and faculty. Some of these solutions are likely here to stay.
Some colleges even set up remote campuses for students to be able to continue their studies in their home countries – Pennsylvania State University taught more than 500 students in Shanghai, on the campus of East China Normal University.
As travel inches toward pre-pandemic levels, colleges and universities are grappling with ways to provide support for this important demographic. Many of these students faced unimaginable challenges at the start of the pandemic and were forced to decide whether to risk being stuck, away from family on campus. As we look to the end of the first semester of the 2021-2022 academic year, institutions are prioritizing programs and support they can provide for international students.
A recent survey of nearly 700 higher education institutions showed that international student enrollment is beginning to creep up toward pre-pandemic levels, which is encouraging for the future college campuses and even more reason for institutions to dedicate resources to this important student base.