International Student Retention: We Can Do Better

Originally Posted June 14, 2014 for KnowledgeShares.Org

In recent weeks, several articles have brought to light a common problem in the international student community: retention rates and disparate expectations between students and institutions.

A unique NAFSA report, which incorporates student perspectives alongside university perceptions, sums up the issue succinctly:  “ … poor retention is a function of the mismatch between expectations of students prior to enrollment and the actual experience of students once they are on campus.”

Awareness that a problem exists is critical to its solution. What can the higher education community do to take the next step in bridging this gap? The Chronicle of Higher Education begins to offer a few solutions in its May article titled, “Retention Is a Growing Issue as More International Students Come to U.S.” But is there more?

Students in the NAFSA article reported a lack of access to jobs as a defining factor in their dissatisfaction with their school of choice. As the Chronicle of Higher Education article points out, within the confines of the law, individuals who enter the U.S. with a student visa may not work outside of a university provided job. And while many students balk at the lack of university jobs available upon their arrival, as part of the process of recruitment, the issue of employment has already been explained, often numerous times, by the student’s main point of contact from the school.

During the application and acceptance process, these specific laws are definitively stated. Students entering on an international student visa must also prove conclusively that they are able to pay for their education prior to being accepted and enrolled in the institution of their choice.

A simple way to resolve this issue is to work with students to make sure they are clear that university jobs are not guaranteed upon arrival to the individual’s new institution. Clarifying beyond doubt, prior to setting foot on campus, that there is no guarantee of employment should allow the student to better prepare themselves to budget their funds.

Additionally, there is a misconception on the part of some international students that by enrolling and working toward a college degree in the United States, they will simply be placed into a job upon graduation. This issue must be dealt with early in the recruitment process. Universities are under no obligation to place students, local or international, into their chosen field. Again, the onus is on the student. A better way to ensure students fully understands this expectation is to introduce them to the career services department early in their university experience. This provides foresight for future employment questions they may have while also allowing them to grow accustomed to the process of looking for jobs and gaining experience in the American market.

To that end, while much of the responsibility lies with the student in matters of finance, it is critical that institutions work with the student at all levels to ensure success. Internationalization of a campus can only be achieved when the entire institution works to immerse and groom international students for success. This includes acceptance and understanding from administration, faculty and fellow students, as well as the effort of the international student.

Students, both international and local, understand that an education is an investment, both culturally, intellectually and financially. In that sense, institutions must be responsible for many aspects of their experience and as customers, students must also accept and be willing to work within their own financial strategies to finance this great investment.

What are some of the ways in which your institution works to improve the disconnect between student and university expectations? Tell us about it in the comment section of this blog.

To find out how KnowledgeShares.Org can provide your institution with these valuable services, visit our International Enrollment Services page, or contact for more information.